So that was … 2013

Welcome to 2014!

And we welcome you to your next ‘open thread’, which will run until the 2nd February, when our conversation starters, and Casablanca’s Cache, will return.

It seems to be traditional at this time of the year to reflect on what has been, and to look forward to what is to happen.

To be fair, 2013 wasn’t the greatest of years.

They say the only constant is change. We leave 2013 with our third Prime Minister for the year and the election of a Federal Government of a different political persuasion to the one we started with. After the event, it seems that the newly elected Government’s politicians proposed to honour their promises more in the breach than the observance. If Parliament House had a ‘service desk’, it would be doing a roaring trade in exchanging votes this holiday season – if the polls can be believed.

Around the world, Barack Obama commenced his second term in January 2013 before walking into a ‘Government shutdown’ over Obamacare. Late in the year the world lost Nelson Mandela – one of the greatest identities of our era. (As an aside, Mandela was still on the US Government’s ‘terrorism watch list’ in 2008 and had to apply for special permission to enter the USA – yet US Presidents of the era still attended his funeral.)

The media landscape also changed in Australia during the year with the commencement of an Australian version of The Guardian. According to an online question and answer session with its editor during November, they are ahead of their expectations of success. The Daily Mail will join them by launching an Australian website in 2014. Various News and Fairfax publications erected paywalls during 2013 and seemingly aren’t commenting on the success of the ventures. NewsCorp is still ‘out to get’ the ABC – especially since the ABC and The Guardian teamed up to break the recent story regarding Australia spying on our neighbours.

The Political Sword is also constantly changing. You’ll find details of the level of change that occurred on this site during 2013 in the previous post. So far the response to the changes has been overwhelmingly positive, and the TPS Team are extremely grateful for your continuing support.

If you would like to write a piece in 2014 as a conversation starter for TPS, we’d love to hear from you. TPS is always looking for new voices, whether you’ve ever written a blog post before, or not. Send us an outline, or a rough draft, or a complete piece: we will be happy to work with you to bring your ideas to fruition.

The TPS Team is also looking for some more regular readers and/or commenters to join the team that now ‘manages’ TPS. Many hands make light work for all of us – and most of the present 2013 team have ‘day jobs’.

As you’re probably aware, all pieces submitted to TPS are reviewed. One way to join the TPS Team, but take on an easy task that doesn’t take a lot of time, and that doesn’t have to happen often, is to offer to review – that is, become a TPS reviewer. Reviewing is a bit like getting to comment, but before we actually publish a piece. (Needless to say, your comments ‘below the line’ are always welcome!)

We are also looking for one or two additional people who might have had editing experience and who might have time to edit a piece for TPS every now and again.

If you have any interest in writing for TPS or helping out as a reviewer or editor, do email us.

As we are in the middle of a period where cricket, surf reports and families seem to be more important than politics, rather than analyse what politicians said versus what they did – the TPS Team is interested in how you see 2014 panning out.

Will you have a great New Year’s resolution story (giving up smoking, catching the bus to work, travelling Australia)?

Do you think it will be a better year for the world, country or you personally?

Do you think Australian politicians will develop an understanding of the common meaning of the word ‘promise’?

The Political Sword Team wishes all our contributors and readers a wonderful year of discussion and of sharing various points of view.

As always, we look forward to you telling us what you think.

‘Happy Summertime’ from the TPS Team!

From this week The Political Sword goes into recess for the summer period until the 2nd February 2014.

Well, its authors, and Casablanca’s Cache, will have a break, but all of you who love to comment and share links and thoughts and fun on TPS don’t have to do the same.

Comments on this page will stay open until the 1st January 2014. Then, the TPS Team will put up a new page, where comments through January can stay open until the first discussion starter by an author for 2014 goes up on the 2nd February.

This past year, 2013, has been a big one for The Political Sword. It’s not only the change of government; it’s that two stalwart Swordsters, Ad Astra and Lyn Linking, retired from their daily and full-time commitment to this long-term blog. We mourned their loss, and wondered about life with no TPS.

But little by little, The Political Sword found itself renewed and revived as a group effort, with a team that now chuffs along behind the scenes, and with regular team authors Ken Wolff and 2353 mixing it up with guest bloggers. This year we’ve been lucky to have well-known writers Barry Tucker and David Horton guesting, as well as Ad Astra on a guest-spot return, and jaycee, long-time commenter, trying his hand at a discussion starter for the first time.

We thought you might like to know who your TPS Team in these last three months of 2013 has been. We were:

  • Bacchus, who provides all general tech support, as well as email and TPS Twitter account support;
  • Casablanca, who puts together the ever-extraordinary ‘Casablanca’s Cache’;
  • Catching Up: email support and comment moderating;
  • Janet (j4gypsy): editing and Twitter support;
  • Ken Wolff: regular authoring and reviewing, as well as editing support;
  • Pappinbarra Fox: regular reviewing support;
  • Talk Turkey: reviewing and comment moderating support;
  • 2353: regular authoring and reviewing as well as online/html coding support;
  • Ad Astra who, as well as mentoring us all through the process of becoming a team, has acted at different times as editor as well as author, and regular TPS site technical support.
We also thought we could all end the year with some visual moments – anything from a cartoon to YouTube grabs -- that capture any of the lowlights or highlights of the 2013 political year, and in whatever seasons TPS contributors might have celebrated or will celebrate this year.

We invite you to add your visual moment (or two) of the year in a comment below, and tell us why you chose it.

Here’s one, with a ‘why’, to start the ball rolling.

2353 picked this, because, he says:

While this clip is really a commercial it demonstrates that some corporations do have a sense of community and of the greater good. Community and the greater good are two things we all should remember in our own dealings and insist on in others during 2014. From my family to yours: we hope 2014 is everything you want it to be and full of peace and prosperity. Take care over the festive season and throughout the year.

We wish you, from us all, a happy and safe summer holiday season.

The myth of political sameness

Cock your ear at your local watering hole, listen to the boys as they clasp a frosted schooner of VB, and you’re bound to hear: ‘They’re all the same these pollies. Ya just can’t trust em’. Of course they are right to some extent. The deception and deviousness we see day after day from our politicians has earned them that condemnation. On the other side of the coin, by and large politicians enter public life to make a difference, to do good things, to make life better for their electorates, indeed the whole nation. Only the Eddie Obeids of this world have self-interest as their driving force.

Similarly, political parties have good intentions and many comparable policies. It’s not surprising then that many voters perceive politicians and parties as ‘all the same’.

This notion of sameness needs debunking, lest too many entitled to cast a vote swallow the myth that the ‘sameness’ of the parties absolves them from making a critical decision about who is best equipped to lead the nation, who has the best policy agenda, who has the most acceptable ideology, who has the most suitable approach to policy development, who can take us to a better future.

Politicians and parties are not ‘all the same’.

In his book: Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2002), George Lakoff, linguist and cognitive scientist, tells us how very different are conservatives from progressives, and how the major differences in their mindset affects their approach to politics. Because he studied US politics, he uses the term ‘liberal’ to describe ‘progressives’ (in the US, Democrats; in this country Labor and perhaps the Greens), and ‘conservative’ to describe conservatives (in the US, Republicans or their extreme variant, The Tea Party; in this country the Liberal National Party, the Coalition). Most of the quotes in this piece are from this book. I quote him extensively; my words could not do a better job than his.

His underlying thesis rests on a central metaphor: ‘Nation as Family’. He elaborates on this as follows:

The Nation is a Family.
The Government is a Parent.
The Citizens are the Children.

We know that the metaphor is not wholly applicable, but many people find it a comfortable one with which they can identify readily. They can accept that family dynamics and economics might be seen as applicable to the nation’s dynamics and economics, even though there are many fundamental differences. Our politicians often use this metaphor, making reference to the family budget to argue that the nation, like a family, must ‘live within its means’.

Building on the Nation as Family metaphor, Lakoff identifies two types of family based upon two distinct styles of parenting, which he assigns to conservatives and progressives respectively. When applied to the Nation as Family metaphor, they result in vastly different behaviours.

The two parenting styles are:

The Strict Father model, and
The Nurturant Parent model.

At the center of the conservative worldview is a Strict Father model; the liberal (progressive) worldview centres on a very different ideal for family life, the Nurturant Parent model, which encompasses both parents.

Lakoff asserts that the Strict Father model is a metaphorical version of an economic idea. He explains:

It is based on a folk version of Adam Smith’s economics: If each person seeks to maximize his own wealth, then, by an invisible hand, the wealth of all will be maximized. Applying the common metaphor that Well-Being Is Wealth to this folk version of free-market economics, we get: If each person tries to maximize his own well-being (or self-interest), the well-being of all will be maximized. Thus, seeking one’s own self-interest is actually a positive, moral act, one that contributes to the well-being of all.

Lakoff goes on to cite some words and phrases used over and over in conservative discourse, words that reflect the Strict Father model:

Character, virtue, discipline, tough it out, get tough, tough love, strong, self-reliance, individual responsibility, backbone, standards, authority, heritage, competition, earn, hard work, enterprise, property rights, reward, freedom, intrusion, interference, meddling, punishment, human nature, traditional, common sense, dependency, self-indulgent, elite, quotas, breakdown, corrupt, decay, rot, degenerate, deviant, lifestyle.

How many times have you heard Coalition members use these words, particularly those who have responsibility for the economy: Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann? Countless times!

Lakoff continues:

Liberals [progressives], in their speeches and writings, choose different topics, different words, and different modes of inference than conservatives. Liberals talk about: social forces, social responsibility, free expression, human rights, equal rights, concern, care, help, health, safety, nutrition, basic human dignity, oppression, diversity, deprivation, alienation, big corporations, corporate welfare, ecology, ecosystem, biodiversity, pollution, and so on. Conservatives tend not to dwell on these topics, or to use these words as part of their normal political discourse.

How often have you heard Labor members and Greens using these words? Over and again!

Lakoff summarises:

The conservative/liberal [progressive] division is ultimately a division between strictness and nurturance as ideals at all levels—from the family to morality to religion and, ultimately, to politics. It is a division at the center of our democracy and our public lives, and yet there is no overt discussion of it in public discourse.

He continues:

Yet it is vitally important that we do so if Americans are to understand, and come to grips with, the deepest fundamental division in our country, one that transcends and lies behind all the individual issues: the role of government, social programs, taxation, education, the environment, energy, gun control, abortion, the death penalty, and so on. These are ultimately not different issues, but manifestations of a single issue: strictness versus nurturance.

In Australia, an identical and just as fundamental division exists between the Coalition, the conservatives, and Labor and the Greens, the progressives. This division results in the striking differences in attitude, behaviour, rhetoric, policy, and indeed morality, which day after day define our own conservatives and our own progressives. It explains so much of the contrast we see.

Lakoff summarises the relationship between morality and politics as follows:

The Strict Father and Nurturant Parent models of the family induce…two moral systems...

The link between family-based morality and politics comes from one of the most common ways we have of conceptualizing what a nation is, namely, as a family. It is the common, unconscious, and automatic metaphor of the Nation as Family that produces contemporary conservatism from Strict Father morality and contemporary liberalism from Nurturant Parent morality.

According to Lakoff, conservatives cannot understand the thinking of progressives, nor can progressives understand conservatives. Conventional logic does not help; it is only when the two methods of parenting are used as explanatory models that understanding comes into view with a startling flash of insight.

To assist understanding, Lakoff compares conservative and liberal (progressive) moral systems:

Conservative categories of moral action:

1. Promoting Strict Father morality in general.
2. Promoting self-discipline, responsibility, and self-reliance.
3. Upholding the Morality of Reward and Punishment.
a. Preventing interference with the pursuit of self-interest by self-disciplined, self-reliant people.
b. Promoting punishment as a means of upholding authority.
c. Ensuring punishment for lack of self-discipline.
4. Protecting moral people from external evils.
5. Upholding the Moral Order.

Liberal categories of moral action:

1. Empathetic behaviour, and promoting fairness.
2. Helping those who cannot help themselves.
3. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
4. Promoting fulfillment in life.
5. Nurturing and strengthening oneself in order to do the above.

He clarifies these concepts as follows:

In the conservative moral worldview, the model citizens are those who best fit all the conservative categories for moral action. They are those (1) who have conservative values and act to support them; (2) who are self-disciplined and self-reliant; (3) who uphold the morality of reward and punishment; (4) who work to protect moral citizens; and (5) who act in support of the moral order. Those who best fit all these categories are successful, wealthy, law-abiding conservative businessmen who support a strong military and a strict criminal justice system, who are against government regulation, and who are against affirmative action. They are the model citizens. They are the people whom all Americans should emulate and from whom we have nothing to fear. They deserve to be rewarded and respected.

These model citizens fit an elaborate mythology. They have succeeded through hard work, have earned whatever they have through their own self-discipline, and deserve to keep what they have earned. Through their success and wealth they create jobs, which they “give” to other citizens. Simply by investing their money to maximize their earnings, they become philanthropists who “give” jobs to others and thereby “create wealth” for others [trickle down economics]. Part of the myth is that these model citizens have been given nothing by the government and have made it on their own. The American Dream is that any honest, self-disciplined, hard-working person can do the same. These model citizens are seen by conservatives as the Ideal Americans in the American Dream.

We can now see clearly why liberal [progressive] arguments for social programs can make no sense at all to conservatives, whether they are arguments on the basis of compassion, fairness, wise investment, financial responsibility, or outright self-interest. The issue for conservatives is a moral issue touching the very heart of conservative morality, a morality where a liberal’s compassion and fairness are neither compassionate nor fair. Even financial arguments won’t carry the day. The issue isn’t about money; it’s about morality.

What we have here are major differences in moral worldview. They are not just differences of opinion about effective public administration. The differences are not about efficiency, or practicality, or economics, and they cannot be settled by rational argument about effective administration. They are ethical opinions about what makes good people and a good nation.

Lakoff illustrates his thesis with an example from America that has application in this country:

Take a simple example: college loans. The federal government has had a program to provide low-interest loans to college students. The students don’t have to start paying off the loans while they are still in college and the loans are interest-free during the college years [similar to our HECS - HELP loan program].

The liberal rationale for the program is this: College is expensive and a great many poor-to-middle-class students cannot afford it. This loan program allows a great many students to go to college who otherwise wouldn’t. Going to college allows one to get a better job at a higher salary afterward and to be paid more during one’s entire life. This benefits not only the student but also the government, since the student will be paying more taxes over his lifetime because of his better job. From the liberal [progressive] moral perspective, this is a highly moral program. It helps those who cannot help themselves. It promotes fulfillment in life in two ways, since education is fulfilling in itself and it permits people to get more fulfilling jobs. It strengthens the nation, since it produces a better-educated citizenry and ultimately brings in more tax money; and it is empathetic behavior making access to college more fairly distributed.

But through conservative spectacles, this is an immoral program. Since students depend on the loans, the program supports dependence on the government rather than self-reliance. Since not everyone has access to such loans, the program introduces competitive unfairness, thus interfering with the free market in loans and hence with the fair pursuit of self-interest. Since the program takes money earned by one group and, through taxation, gives it to another group, it is unfair and penalizes the pursuit of self-interest by taking money from someone who has earned it and giving it to someone who hasn’t.

Lakoff explains:

I started with college loans because it is not as heated an issue as abortion or welfare or the death penalty or gun control. Yet it is a nitty-gritty issue, because it affects a lot of people very directly. To a liberal, it is obviously the right thing to do. And to a conservative, it is obviously the wrong thing to do.

I trust that these extensive quotes from Lakoff’s book paint clearly the differences that he postulates exist between the mindset and thinking of conservatives and progressives.

Although Lakoff’s description of the extremes of conservative and progressive thinking might lead one to conclude that there is a spectrum along which this thinking is distributed, somewhat after the fashion of a bell-shaped curve, which could throw up ‘moderate’ or ‘middle of the road’ conservatives and progressives, Lakoff maintains that there are no such politicians. He acknowledges that sometimes conservatives may have a progressive view on some issues, and progressives may have a conservative view on other issues, but insists that there are no moderates. A conservative is a conservative, and a progressive is a progressive.

Lakoff spells out in detail just how conservatives and progressives see the world:

It should now be clear why, from the conservative world-view, the rich should be seen as “the best people”. They are the model citizens, those who, through self-discipline and hard work, have achieved the American Dream. They have earned what they have and deserve to keep it. Because they are the best people – people whose investments create jobs and wealth for others – they should be rewarded. Taking money away is conceptualized as harm, financial harm; that is the metaphorical basis of seeing taxation as punishment. When the rich are taxed more than others for making a lot more money, they are, according to conservatives, being punished for being model citizens, for doing what, according to the American Dream, they are supposed to do. Taxation of the rich is, to conservatives, punishment for doing what is right and succeeding at it. It is a violation of the Morality of Reward and Punishment. In the conservative worldview, the rich have earned their money and, according to the Morality of Reward and Punishment, deserve to keep it. Taxation – the forcible taking of their money from them against their will – is seen as unfair and immoral, a kind of theft. That makes the federal government a thief. Hence, a common conservative attitude toward the government: You can’t trust it, since, like a thief, it’s always trying to find ways to take your money.

Liberals, of course, see taxation through very different lenses. In Nurturant Parent morality, the wellbeing of all children matters equally. Those children who need less care, the mature and healthy children, simply have a duty to help care for those who need more, say, younger or infirm children. The duty is a matter of moral accounting. They have received nurturance from their parents and owe it to the other children if it is needed. In the Nation as Family metaphor, citizens who have more have a duty to help out those who have much less. Progressive taxation is a form of meeting this duty. Rich conservatives who are trying to get out of paying taxes are seen as selfish and mean-spirited. The nation has helped provide for them and it is their turn to help provide for others. They owe it to the nation.

He could scarcely make it any clearer. How relevant is this exposition to the contemporary dispute about the Gonski model for school funding here!

Lakoff goes on to assert a worrying trend:

The conservative family values agenda is, at present, being set primarily by fundamentalist Christians. This is not a situation that many people are aware of.

These groups have been most explicit in developing a Strict Father approach to childrearing and have been extremely active in promoting their approach. On the whole, they are defining the conservative position for the current debate about childrearing, as well as for legislation incorporating their approach. Since the ideas in conservative Christian childrearing manuals are fully consistent with the Strict Father model of the family that lies behind conservative politics, it is not at all strange that such fundamentalist groups should be setting the national conservative agenda on family values.

In short, conservative family values, which are the basis for conservative morality and political thought, are not supported by either research in child development or the mainstream childrearing experts in the country. That is another reason why the conservative family agenda has been left to fundamentalist Christians. Since there is no significant body of mainstream experts who support the Strict Father model, conservatives can rely only on fundamentalist Christians, who have the only well thought out approach to childrearing that supports the Strict Family model.

The claims to legitimacy for the conservative family values enterprise rest with the fundamentalist Christian community, a community whose conclusions are not based on empirical research but on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. And that…is based on Strict Father morality itself. Thus, there is no independent or non-ideological basis whatever for conservative claims about family values.

Is this group of fundamentalist Christians representative of conservative attitudes about childrearing? I don’t know, but they are in charge. They are the people setting the conservative family values agenda.

We have become aware of the influence of fundamentalist Christians in The Tea Party on the recent debt ceiling debate in the US, which resulted in the closure of some government departments, and threatened the government with the prospect of defaulting on repayment of its borrowings. They pressured their less radical Republican colleagues and almost succeeded in overwhelming them.

Lakoff comments on the funding of policy think tanks:

Because of the way conservative think tanks are funded – through large general block grants and virtually guaranteed long-term funding – conservative intellectuals can work on long-term, high-level strategies that cover the whole spectrum of issues.

Liberal [progressive] think tanks and other organizations are not only out-funded four-to-one, they are also organized in a self-defeating manner. There are three general types: advocacy, policy, and monitoring the other side. The advocacy and policy organizations generally work issue-by-issue. Few are engaged in long-term, high-level thinking, partly because of the issue-by-issue orientation, partly because they are kept busy responding to the current week’s conservative assaults, and partly because they constantly have to pursue funding. The funding priorities of liberal foundations and other funders are also self-defeating. They tend to be program-oriented (issue-by-issue) and relatively short-term with no guarantee of refunding. Moreover, they tend not to give money for career development or infrastructure. And liberal organizations tend not to support their intellectuals! In short, they are doing just the opposite of what they should be doing if they are to counter the conservatives’ successes.

I’m sure these words will resonate in Labor hearts in this country, where we have seen several well-funded conservative think tanks (the IPA is a classic example) outperform the few progressive ones, set the policy agenda for the Coalition, and fashion the most effective framing of these policies. Labor has not been able to match this, has been manipulated to use the frames set by the Coalition, and thereby has repeatedly failed to get across its message.

It is heartening to see that the Centre for Policy Development, a local progressive think tank, has this year written a book: Pushing Our Luck: ideas for Australian progress, about which reviewer Ken Wolff tells us that it ‘presents a wide ranging picture of the changes needed in our economic and social structures if we are to maintain our “luck” into the future’.

Finally, in another Lakoff book: The Political Mind – A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to your Brain and its Politics (Penguin Books, London, 2009), he asserts that the different thinking of conservatives and progressives has a neural basis. He argues:

To change minds, you must change brains. You must make unconscious politics conscious. Because most of what our brains do is unconscious, you can’t find out how people’s brains work by just asking them. That is why neuroscience and cognitive sciences are necessary.

There is not space here to elaborate; that will have to wait for another piece.

To me, Lakoff’s thesis was a revelation. As one who applies logic to resolve puzzling matters, Lakoff showed how pointless this process is in attempting to understand how conservatives and progressives think, and why they think so differently. He also showed the pointlessness of expecting conservatives and progressives to explain why they are so different; they don’t know themselves!

Lakoff provides a plausible explanatory model. I for one believe he has tapped into a rich vein of understanding that for me explains the extraordinary differences between our own conservatives and progressives, which until I read his thesis, defied explanation. What he says makes sense. Hereafter, it will enable a depth of comprehension for me that was not previously possible.

Try keeping Lakoff’s thesis in mind as you now listen to political dialogue, no matter what the forum. You might be surprised how much more sense you are able to make of it!

What do you think?

Generational change and the ALP

In the Abbott Cone of Silence since the 2013 election, the media has actually been looking around for other things to report on. There are two issues that caught my interest recently.

The first was the reporting of a survey conducted by Monash University and funded by the Scanlon Foundation. The survey suggested that while Australians like immigration, they dislike ‘boat people’. (The Scanlon Foundation website discusses the objectives of this organisation as well as linking to the current and previous surveys.)

Unfortunately (for me), I can remember the 70s and 80s and the Vietnam War. I can also remember that there was bipartisan support for a considerable number of people displaced from South East Asia as a result of that war who became refugees in Australia. At the time, part of the discussion on why we should accept asylum seekers from South East Asia into Australian society was that Australia was partly responsible for the displacement of fellow human beings. There was a certain amount of logic to this argument as Australia was part of a multi-national force that had attempted to bomb the Vietnamese Communists into submission.

The Australian Government of the time assisted asylum seekers into the country; then, through a number of paid and volunteer groups gave assistance to the refugees until they ‘found their feet’ in Australia and started to contribute to our society. The National Archives website claims:

… the impact of the Fraser government can best be seen in its revitalised immigration program. From 1975 to 1982, some 200,000 migrants arrived from Asian countries, including nearly 56,000 Vietnamese people who applied as refugees. In addition, policies were put in place to grant entry to 2059 ‘boat people’ – refugees from Vietnam who arrived without documents or official permission after hazardous sea voyages to the northern coast of Australia. The immigration program focused on resettlement and multiculturalism. In 1978 the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was created. Petro Georgiou, the Prime Minister’s immigration adviser, suggested in retrospect that: ‘Viewed in the longer run it was the entry of Vietnamese refugees that made Australia’s migrant intake multiracial … it was under [Fraser’s] management that Australia first confronted the real consequences of abolishing the White Australia Policy.’

Between the 1930s and now, it is estimated that Australia has become home to over 750,000 refugees. The National Archives attributes over 56,000 of that number to the eight years of the Fraser Government.

The interesting thing about this period of our history is that the Australian Prime Minister at the time – Malcolm Fraser – was a member of the Liberal Party and described at the time as extremely conservative.* In his defence, though, his predecessor was Gough Whitlam so the comparison is probably more marked than it could have been. Fraser was conservative economically; he commissioned a review of the Public Service as well as cutting expenditure and reducing services (sound familiar?). Fraser’s Government – his Treasurer was John Howard – had the Australian economy in recession in 1983 when Bob Hawke and the ALP were voted into power.

Come forward to 2013 and we have both political parties in Australia attempting to outdo each other in rhetoric demonstrating they are ‘tough’ on asylum seekers. The Political Sword has previously discussed some of the current practices in relation to asylum seekers, and we won’t go there again now. However, we can ask why there was bipartisan support for asylum seekers in the 70s and 80s and why in 2013 there is bipartisan support for what could be described as an ‘anywhere but Australia’ policy.

The second issue in the media that caught my interest was the ‘debt ceiling’ debate in the United States. While I won’t claim to know enough about the practicalities and politics of the issue, there has been considerable reporting on it. This News Limited business article ‘Tea Party candidates behind the US government shutdown’, written before the very public back down from the Republican Party that allowed the US Government to resume ‘normal service’, details some of the issues involved.

The Tea Party is a very conservative political group that has a number of ‘non-negotiable’ core beliefs. These are listed on their website and seem to be similar to some of the 75 points the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) believe are necessary in Australia. Ironically, the linked article from the IPA sheets a considerable part of the blame for Australia’s ‘failings’ to Fraser’s Government. There is a local Tea Party, too, calling itself CANdo. You might recognise some of the players in, or offering patronage to, that organisation: for example, David Flint, Hugh Morgan, Alan Jones.

That the conservative end of the Republican Party – backed by their Tea Party – is bringing to America significant personal tragedy and heartache is demonstrated by the personal story of an IRS government employee caught in the shutdown, Jenny Brown of Ogden Utah, as reported by George Packer in The New Yorker. In ‘Business as usual’, Packer notes that:

According to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s, the Tea Party’s brinkmanship cost the American economy twenty-four billion dollars—more than half a percentage point of quarterly growth. House Republicans have suffered a huge tactical defeat of their own devising, and their approval ratings are at an all-time low. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress appear strong for refusing to give in to blackmail.

But he then reflects that:

… in a larger sense the Republicans are winning, and have been for the past three years, if not the past thirty. They’re just too blinkered by fantasies of total victory to see it. The shutdown caused havoc for federal workers and the citizens they serve across the country. Parks and museums closed, new cancer patients were locked out of clinical trials, loans to small businesses and rural areas froze, time ran down on implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law, trade talks had to be postponed. All this chaos only brings the government into greater disrepute, and, as Jenny Brown’s colleagues dig their way out of the backlog, they’ll be fielding calls from many more enraged taxpayers. It would be naïve to think that intransigent Republicans don’t regard these consequences of their actions with indifference, if not outright pleasure. Ever since Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural, pronounced government to be the problem, elected Republicans have been doing everything possible to make it true.

While the Republicans may be seen to be ‘winning the argument’, it seems, however, that all is not well for the Tea Party’s role within the Republican Party – as this Bloomberg report, ‘Republican Civil War Erupts: Business Groups v. Tea Party’, explains. Harold Meyerson, in ‘A tea party purge among the GOP’ (The Washington Post) also analyses the issue.

Both articles reflect on the predominance of ‘older white Americans’ in the US Tea Party. Apparently, one of the ‘big issues’ with the US Government shutdown with older white Americans was the closure of the World War II memorial in Washington – an interesting comment on the demographics and perceptions of the Tea Party’s membership! Perhaps Gary Younge of The Guardian has the answer, in terms of this group in the US:

Central to this deep-seated sense of angst is race. In 2012, 92% of the Republican vote came from white people who, within 30 years, will no longer be in the majority.

Back in Australia, it seems that the same people that are publically backing the self-proclaimed ‘Australian Tea Party’ – CANdo – also have considerable influence in our major conservative party, the LNP, particularly in relation to its leadership.

After Kevin Rudd and the ALP were voted into office, the Parliamentary Opposition Leadership position seemed to be a revolving door – with Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull both being ‘tapped on the shoulder’. On both occasions, this occurred after they seemed to agree with a proposal from the ALP Government that wasn’t conventional – the GFC economic stimulus plan and the carbon pricing scheme, respectively. Abbott won his 2009 leadership vote by one vote and was the third Opposition Leader since the 2007 election. The LNP leadership challenges were reported at the time as being orchestrated by the LNP’s ‘power brokers’ such as Nick Minchin a (now retired) Liberal Senator from South Australia. But Phil Dobbie (a broadcaster with considerable experience) also links the influence of the Alan Jones’ Radio Show with the various changes in Liberal Party leadership during the period 2007 to 2010.

Can George Packer’s comment that the conservatives are ‘really winning the argument’ be seen as valid across the Pacific in Australia?

I believe it can be. The Scanlon/Monash survey on Social Cohesiveness suggests that in 2013 this country is ‘against’ asylum seekers – in spite of bipartisan support in the 1970s and 1980s where a resettlement policy was managed by the ruling Liberal/Country Party Government. Reflecting such findings by the Scanlon/Monash survey, the current Government used the three-word ‘Stop the boats’ mantra while in Opposition and claims that they stopped the boats in their first 50 days of Government.

The ALP seems to have recognised this trend and in these days of focus groups and marketing experts also seems to be heading to the conservative side of politics, allowing for a vacuum to be created on the progressive side of the political landscape.

While ‘aping’ your competitors may work when selling TVs, it is potentially a lesser advantage when selling ideas and strategy. The ALP is responsible for a number of great social advances in Australian history, from paid annual leave to disability care. Should the ALP, in an attempt to court a group of voters that are literally dying out, (ageing conservative men and women) continue to copy the LNP’s position on a number of issues, or should it stand its ground on its own principles?

Obama and the Democratic Party in the US seem to have decided to hold their ground – and for the moment they are successful. It seems that they have begun to fracture the conservative alliance of the Tea Party and Republican Party by standing by their principles on the debt ceiling issue and demonstrating that the Republicans are being held to ransom by an ideological rump. Since the same issue arises again early next year, the battle is not over and it will be interesting to see if the ‘Tea Party’ or ‘Business’ Republicans (see again the Bloomberg report) win the day.

As older conservative Australians die out, will the ALP survive the current generational or demographic change within Australia?

Can the ALP determine a strategy to promote the real differences between them and the LNP?

Might the ALP model itself on the US Democratic Party in order to reach out to those that are not represented by the LNP?

What do you think?

* Note: We never see Malcolm Fraser as an honoured guest at events such as Liberal Party policy launches these days despite his engineering of the fall of the Whitlam Government. He resigned from the Liberal Party in 2009, and campaigned for a Greens Candidate at the last Federal Election.

The Meaning of Treason

In the closing days of the Second World War, the name ‘Lord Haw Haw’ was synonymous with the cry: ‘traitor!’ In those days a traitor was seen as a clear-cut thing. In The Meaning of Treason (Penguin, 1965), Rebecca West identifies him as a traitor:

... by broadcasting between '... the eighteenth day of September 1939 and on other divers days thereafter, and between that day and the second day of July 1940, being then to wit, on the said several days, a person owing allegiance to our Lord the King...' It was in fact the case for the prosecution that a person obtaining a passport placed himself thereby under the protection of the crown and owed it allegiance until the passport expired.

A clear case of loyalty to the crown, His Majesty, The King.

These days, loyal allegiance is somewhat more ‘beige’. Today's democracies lean more toward public perception and cultural authority for a definition of loyalty. But to work hand in hand in a brazen manner to both bring down the democratically elected government of the day and, by obfuscation, stealth and deliberate slander to work to have elected a ‘favourite’ of the vested interests that had the intent of demolishing national infrastructure and working against the social equality of the peoples of the nation, has to equate with a definition of treason.

To my mind, there is no doubt that we, as a nation, have been betrayed. Those many ‘national interest’ policies: the NBN, Gonski, NDIS, ETS, Environmental Protection, and National Parks, that are in the national interest, and coupled with a now recognized ‘non-emergency with the budget’, are at risk, and indeed in some cases will be dismantled for no other reason than to satisfy vested or financial interests, not solely out of a twisted ideology, but out of insatiable greed.

It would be an act of treason to betray the nation’s interest by destroying national infrastructure and public policy that benefits the majority of citizens, while giving financial reward to a tiny minority of capital-invested players. That would be treason, in every sense of the word and meaning. Judas would get his thirty pieces of silver. The fact that these modern major players are set to gain billions of dollars through such acts of vandalism against the nation is their treason, in every sense of the word.

But we are told that the government was voted in by over half the population. That is correct, but we are also aware that much of the voting public is neither politically perceptive nor very interested in political outcomes, other than to effect a strange ‘payback’ for the illusion of injury that has been trumped-up by the Mainstream Media. Whatever swayed the voters it certainly was assisted by some outright lies and slanderous accusations in the MSM against the sitting government.

The political players, in collusion with big media and big business, have done the most damage, particularly the Mainstream Media. We know their names, we have railed against them here and elsewhere for their perfidious behaviour, and they continue to obfuscate and manipulate out of self-interest, financial gain, or a perceived political future too obscure for mere mortals to comprehend. Only now are we reading of the vast number and scope of the rorts perpetrated by the then Opposition, now the Government. Why was this information hidden when members of parliament, and even the Speaker of the House, were being goaded to resign and were being vilified over lesser amounts? There can be only one reason.

This Government was voted in after a campaign based on fraud and deception, one perpetrated by the Mainstream Media and its employees. Who can deny the fact that many of the Government’s so-called policies were unexamined, uncontested and unopposed by that very estate that sanctimoniously holds itself up as the Fourth Estate of democracy? Indeed, it continues to this day to support the Government’s policy agenda. Even the recent trips to Indonesia and Asia by the PM were deemed a roaring success, not because of what was achieved (there was more given away!), but because it was deemed so by the Fourth Estate! The lies were maintained; the circle is complete!

In The Meaning of Treason, Rebecca West makes some very interesting observations on how the modern media has played its part in the dissemination of propaganda:

Never before have people known the voice of one they had never seen as well as if he had been a husband or brother or a close friend; and had they foreseen such a miracle they could not have imagined that this familiar unknown would speak to them only to prophesy their death and ruin.

She speaks of William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw). She continues:

He was not only alarming; he was ugly. He opened a vista into a mean life. He always spoke as if he were better fed, and better clothed than we were …

The above portrayal is an example of the malicious persuasion that manipulates a people, a people hungry for simplicity of policy, for entertainment, contentment and insulation from the harsh realities of the world on their doorstep. It is the style of propaganda of those who have in many cases helped cause those very disasters that bring trouble to our doorstep, propaganda that is trying to stop programs that could alleviate and soften such events in the future. Such people portray a meanness of spirit and ugliness of heart that opens the door to cruel intent. That is a betrayal of the trust given to the Mainstream Media, a trust that was bestowed upon those called to shine a light on duplicitous behaviour that can ruin a society, not to collude with reckless abandon in that very behaviour.

I give the last words on such a tawdry subject to Ariel Gonzales on Rebecca West's book:

The Meaning of Treason reminds us that sometimes the worst betrayal is the trading of values for the illusion of safety.

That is the meaning of treason!

Review of ‘Pushing Our Luck: ideas for Australian progress’

If you want an alternative to the Abbott future for Australia, this book is for you. It has the ideas and policy approaches with which to bombard politicians and opinion-makers.

The publisher, the Centre for Policy Development (CPD), was established in 2007, a progressive think-tank that grew out of New Matilda, providing an important counter to right-wing think-tanks such as the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

This IPA article is an example of what we are up against and why this book is so important.

In its six years of operation, CPD has already influenced Labor policy on health and its members regularly attend conferences, write articles, and make appearances on The Drum on ABC News 24. A young organisation, CPD is already making its mark. The people involved and who have contributed to this book help explain why. Many of the authors, experts in their field, you will know: for example, the editor Miriam Lyons; Eva Cox on welfare; Ian McAuley on restructuring the economy; Jane Caro, well-known from the ABC’s Gruen Transfer and a strong proponent of public education, one of two authors on education; and Geoff Gallup, former WA Premier, on a national vision and strategy.

I come to this book after 30 years of policy work in Aboriginal affairs, covering issues such as education and training, economic development and ‘development approaches’ to service delivery. I understand policy, and implementing policy, and the interplay of economic and social issues as they affect everyday lives. I know and like what this book is about.

Pushing Our Luck presents a wide ranging picture of the changes needed in our economic and social structures if we are to maintain our ‘luck’ into the future. Its approach matches my own experience linking people and economics, not considering the two as somehow divorced.

Such a linkage was stated strongly by the OECD in 2005:

... children of poor parents have less chance of succeeding in life than children of rich parents: a widening inequality of income risks leading to a widening inequality of opportunity. Because of these factors, a failure to tackle the poverty facing millions of families and their children is not only socially reprehensible, it will also weigh heavily on our capacity to sustain economic growth for years to come.

Despite that, our governments appear not to have come to grips with the concept. This book does and deserves attention; and deserves to be put under the noses of our politicians.

The ‘Introduction’ (by the editor, Miriam Lyons) asks the question why Australians feel financially insecure when economic indicators suggest Australia is at or very near the top of the league of developed countries. There is rising inequality and governments are providing fewer services, placing more risk and uncertainty back on the individual. The economy of the nation may be travelling well but many people are working longer, often in less secure employment, and not seeing the benefits of our economic success.

Returning to the old Australian concept of a fair and egalitarian society is part of the answer. Lindy Edwards pursues this in Chapter 9, ‘Welcome Home: Preventing the next culture war’. She asks for more emphasis on Australia’s democratic history: the radical path we trod in the late 1800s and early 1900s, giving women the vote and allowing ordinary people, not just an elite, to be elected to parliament. She relates the story of an early member of the Australian Parliament making a speech with holes in his suit pants because it was the only suit he had. The fact that Australia had the world’s first Labo(u)r government was no accident but a result of our founders ensuring that ordinary people were drawn into the political process.

The idea that human societies are not chained to repeating history and that we can create a better world runs deep in the Australian tradition. In recent years we have lost sight of how rare that philosophy was, and still is.

She calls her approach ‘egalitarian nationalism’ and presents it as an alternative but inclusive national narrative to that of multiculturalism. It is also highly relevant to the rest of the book as such a shift in our national narrative could create greater acceptance of the alternative policy proposals.

In both the health chapter (Chapter 3, ‘Getting better: prescriptions for an ailing health system’, Jennifer Doggett) and the education chapter (Chapter 2, ‘Getting past Gonski: every child deserves a good school’, Chris Bonnor and Jane Caro), the authors show the increasing divide occurring in access to services, with the well-off using private schools and private hospitals while public systems remain under-resourced.

In education both higher and lower achieving students are becoming more concentrated in separate schools. The authors support the Gonski approach to increase funding to those schools most in need but suggest neither the Coalition nor Labor is committed to taking all the steps necessary for equity and opportunity.

It is amazing that we are still discussing inequality in education. I have, from a time when we did believe in equality, Tom Roper’s 1971 book The Myth of Equality. In the subsequent 42 years there have been many changes in our education systems but Roper would recognise the same failings. We have not provided the funding necessary, nor adopted the policies that would change it. I agree that much needs to be done, perhaps even more than suggested by this chapter.

Eva Cox’s chapter on welfare (Chapter 4, ‘Putting society first: welfare for wellbeing’) argues for welfare payments that provide a reasonable income, not a minimalist safety net, and that pushing people into employment should not be the driving force behind welfare support. She refers to our current job market offering fewer secure jobs with predictable hours as a problem that our welfare system must address.

International literature refers to such work as ‘precarious’ employment and it is covered in detail in Chapter 6, ‘Taking the high road: a future that works for workers’ by Lisa Heap. Australia has an increasing number of workers who are casual, part-time, on fixed term contracts and similar forms of non-standard employment that may not offer the benefits of holidays, sick leave and so on. She proposes a basic set of conditions that should apply to all workers irrespective of whether they are full- or part-time. Employers are also avoiding their responsibilities to their workers by using them as sub-contractors or taking them from labour hire companies. This requires a broader definition of employment. Government, business managers, industry associations and unions need to look afresh at the way we now work rather than maintain an out-dated focus on ‘male full-time employment’.

In Chapter 5 (‘After the boom: where will growth come from?’, Roy Green) and Chapter 7 (‘Life after luck: building a more resilient economy’, Ian McAuley) the proposals are about productivity and economic restructuring. Green argues for new and smarter management and quotes evidence that changes in management have a proportionally greater impact on productivity than changes in labour and capital. The changes we need include not just technical but organisational innovation.

McAuley says our reliance, historically, on resources like gold, iron ore and coal has created a mentality not conducive to a modern economy.

Both agree we need to add value to our products and that simply reducing costs is no longer an answer. McAuley puts it like this:

Cost-based competition will always be a struggle. Instead focus on providing so much customer value through products or services that they can command premium prices.

As expected on such an issue, Chapter 8, ‘Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality’, John Wiseman goes furthest regarding the changes required to meet the challenges. Issues of productivity, economic restructuring, and creating an equitable society also link with these changes. A key difference in this argument is that the time has passed for incremental change. It is now necessary to adopt something like a ‘war footing’ to achieve a rapid transition to a new carbon-free economy.

In the book, ‘Chipping in: paying for a good society’ is rightly the first chapter, but I also link it to the big picture of the final chapter because it addresses how the alternative policies can be funded by government. Four authors were involved in this chapter (so I won’t list them all). I liked their reference to the ‘reality triangle’ in the business world: ‘fast, ‘good’ and ‘cheap’. The concept is that a product or service can achieve any two of these but never successfully all three. They suggest a similar triangle for governments: ‘low taxes’, ‘balanced budgets’ and ‘high quality public services’. In the electoral chase to lower taxes, we have been running into problems with the other two.

They propose changes to increase revenue and suggest the electorate may accept increased taxes if these quickly result in improved services, or if it can at least be shown that the increased revenue is committed to the services. That is consistent with the general support for tax levies identified for specific purposes, such as the ‘gun buy-back’, the ‘flood levy’ and the increase to the Medicare levy to help fund the NDIS.

The last chapter (Chapter 10, ‘The vision thing: we need a national plan’) by Geoff Gallop, provides a means to draw together the previous proposals. The author discusses a national plan and points to some successful approaches through the COAG Reform Agenda and the earlier introduction of the National Competition Policy.

It focuses too much on the practical aspects (as important as they are) and ignores key elements of a ‘vision’. In my experience, the vision is vital in showing how the underlying strategies fit into the whole: for example, how the education strategy ties into economic and social inclusivity strategies; why ‘a’ must precede ‘b’, thereby allowing people to understand why there is increased funding for one and not the other.

It should be obvious that one can’t provide refrigeration and computers to a community that doesn’t have a reliable electrical supply but that is a situation I encountered in my working life. It arises if a strategy is not linked effectively to an overall vision or, sometimes, an attitude that the important precursors are too expensive so let’s move straight to the cheaper parts. They are issues that can be overcome in the logic of the vision. Politicians should play a key part in explaining that logic – but first they have to find a vision! Starting with the policies in this book would help them.

In this short review I cannot do justice to the policies, evidence and background presented. For example, I found the first chapter on tax reform also effective as an economics primer. There is much to be found here, including the many sources listed at the end of each chapter.

This collection of articles, although only ten in number, is vital in developing an overall progressive vision for the future of Australia, one building on our luck not relying on it, and again making Australia an egalitarian society. I strongly recommend it for your Christmas list.

Pushing our Luck: Ideas for Australian Progress edited by Miriam Lyons with Adrian March and Ashley Hogan, published 2013 by the Centre for Policy Development, Haymarket NSW

If you want more information, or a copy of the book go to the Centre for Policy Development.

Lights out

The last time an Australian Labor leader came up with a phrase that was both memorable and of positive benefit to the Party was Ben Chifley's ‘Light on the Hill’. So good was it, in fact, that the media have deliberately tried to turn it into a joke phrase.

Oddly, the phrase is part of an otherwise forgettable piece of prose:

I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.

Indeed the memorable ‘light’ part bears no obvious relation to the rest of the worthy description, and that in turn, though it is worthy, is totally unclear. ‘Better standards of living’? ‘Greater happiness’? You see what he is trying to get at, but it is no ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, is it?

Nevertheless, it is a hell of a lot better than to suggest that the programmatic specificity of the Party was to incrementally adjust the economic indicators of the lower socio-economic groups in order to improve their wellness parameters.

The ‘Light on the Hill’ phrase is a ‘frame’. It is not a factual description of anything, but an image, a metaphor, which each person reading or hearing interprets according to their own ideas and experience, and as such is much more powerful than a long lecture or a text book. ‘Frame’ is a term coined by George Lakoff in a book whose title – Don't Think of an Elephant – makes clear the meaning. (The word ‘elephant’ carries such strong images that if you tell someone not to think of one they will be unable not to.)

For example, the ‘Light’ in Chifley's frame is usually considered to be a lighthouse, perhaps a beacon, showing the way. I read it rather as a farmhouse on a hill, with one light showing on the porch, guiding the way home for the weary traveller. With a Labor government in power eventually we will all find our way home to warmth and succour and rest – a very powerful image.

From that time onwards it has all been, so to speak, downhill for the Labor Party. The next memorable framing is Whitlam's ‘It's Time’, and this is another (two-word!) slogan often praised for its effectiveness. But in 1972 any old drover's dog's breakfast of a slogan would have beaten McMahon. And it's worth looking at this slogan with fresh eyes. All it was really saying was that, after 23 years, surely it was Labor's turn: what about us, it isn't fair, we don't get enough, now we want our share. Not exactly aux armes citoyens is it?

But, a trifle unfair, it also carried the connotation of ‘It's time we joined the twentieth century’ and ‘It's time we did all the things that have been neglected since Menzies became PM’ and ‘It's time to dump McMahon into the dustbin of history’. And these readings, this framing of the election choice, was emphasised emphatically after the Labor win as the Duumvirs Whitlam and Barnard – no time (!) to muck around waiting for caucus to elect a ministry – got stuck into a mountain of policy implementation in the most astonishing short period of government in Australian history.

So, benefit of the doubt, a deliberate and successful framing. But what else of Whitlam's words sticks in your mind? Ah yes, from the day the lights on the hill were turned off and the dream ended: ‘Well may we say “god save the queen” because nothing will save the governor-general’.

Now if you know nothing else about Whitlam you will know that phrase. Must have been replayed a million times in the next four decades. But, um, what does it actually mean? Who was saying ‘god save the queen’ exactly? And what is the meaning of the words ‘well may’ and ‘because’ in the sentence? And from what was the GG not being ‘saved’ and when? No, the whole thing is nonsense, words that individually have meaning but collectively are gobbledygook.

Those assembled cheered of course, would have cheered whatever he said, but I wonder if afterwards they were puzzled about why they cheered? If this was Whitlam's attempt to frame the events of Remembrance Day 1975 it was an abysmal failure. Apart from anything else, Kerr was merely a tool of Fraser (and Murdoch). The framing that was needed was to explain to the people precisely what was happening and why. But he failed to do that, and so the Fraser/Murdoch framing (Loans Affair, bad government) is what people remembered and proceeded to vote on a month later.

Then we come to Hawke. Someone I had remembered as, along with Keating, being good at framing. But what do we remember of the millions of words he spoke as PM? Just two phrases – ‘any boss who sacks a worker for being late this morning is a bum’ and ‘by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty’. Oh dear. Clearly a drover's dog could do a better job of framing than Hawkey.

‘Bosses’, ‘sack’, ‘bums’, all said with a mad cackle and a stupid smile while wearing a clown's jacket? Were the Lib minders organising the show? How about ‘under Labor Australians are encouraged to be world beaters by combining mateship with technology and skill’ or ‘boats will always sail faster under a Labor government’.

And the other one on children and poverty? Talk about providing hostages to fortune and the Opposition! What did such a boast mean? How would you measure it? How could you possibly achieve whatever ‘it’ was in such a short space of time? As a result it went down in history not as Hawke's ‘Light on the Hill’, which it was obviously meant to be, but a hollow boast signifying nothing. Why not ‘Labor believes all children are created equal’? What about ‘Labor always strives to give children a helping hand through the obstacle course of poverty’? Anything really except what he did say.

Then it was Keating's turn. Yes, yes, I know, pithy phrases, rotten carcasses swinging in the wind being done slowly and all that. But the one the public remembers, the one indelibly branded on Paul's forehead like the tattoo of a French clock? ‘This is the Recession we had to have’! I mean, if you wanted to save the Lib's faceless men time by thinking up negative framing for Labor that's the kind of phrase you might come up with. Alternatives? Well, I don't know, but perhaps ‘Labor has brought boom times for all Australians, but now we need to take a smoko for a moment while the economy readjusts’? Or something of the kind?

No good Paul, no good at all, and I doubt that he ever, in spite of perceptions, ever understood framing. Or perhaps he did mean to suggest to the voters who thought this the greatest country on the planet that Australia was instead the ‘arsehole of the world’. Is that a vote-catching frame or what?

So, goodbye true believers, hullo straighteners and levellers: John Howard, soufflé having risen for the third time, Lazarus having had his bypass, was in power. And immediately began talking as if he had learnt to speak Frame in the cot. Every sentence would have made George Lakoff proud, not a word wasted in driving home the message ‘Liberal good, Labor bad’.

You remember (and that is the point) ‘interest rates always lower’, ‘we will decide who comes here’, ‘lacks ticker’, ‘black armband’ and so on. Perfect framing every time. So perfect that he easily threw off every Labor challenge, all of them frame-free and totally forgettable as you walked into a polling booth. But then Howard's faceless men over-reached. Creating for their corporate masters a system of industrial relations which destroyed unions and took Australian workers back to Dickensian satanic mills, the likely lads of Menzies House called it, in an attempt to create the most improbable frame of all time. ‘Work Choices’.

The men and women of Australia, ultimately demonstrating that you can frame some of the issues all of the time, and all of the issues some of the time, but you can't frame all of the issues all of the time, saw through Work Choices as Hobson's Choice, and dumped Howard into the dustbin of history. Replaced by Kevin07, a slick marketing frame with not much behind it. Immediately confirmed by Mr 07 holding a 2020 Summit at which he sat taking notes at the feet of Australia's Best and Brightest for three days, and then, when the TV cameras stopped focussing on the bold and the beautiful of Australia's A-List, Kevin firmly established as one of them, dumped the notes into the dustbin of Parliament House and promptly forgot about them.

It was a kind of grand visual framing of how he saw his prime-ministership unfolding in the Versailles of the Southern Hemisphere, but it ended there. No one can remember anything Rudd said – backward ran sentences until reeled the mind – except for a few flourishes which became jokes: ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’, ‘gotta zip’, ‘programmatic specificity’.

And Julia Gillard was if anything worse. Given a clever program of reducing CO₂ pollution by putting a price on carbon for the big polluters while subsidising the public to compensate, she called it a ‘carbon tax’. Not only was this a gift in itself to the Likely Liberal Lakoff Lads, instantly referring to a ‘great big new tax’ when they weren't referring to a ‘toxic tax’, but she had apparently made herself seem to be a liar, having said that she would not introduce a ‘carbon tax’ (but would, in a second part of sentence never shown to the public, put a price on carbon) before the election. I'm thinking the frame writers in Abbott's office must have been pinching themselves in disbelief each morning after making an offering to Hanesha, the Elephant God in the room.

Having produced a negative frame for yourself and seen it used to enormous effect by the Opposition, Gillard (or her advisers) seem to have decided that frames were a Very Bad Thing and they would never use one again in case it turned out to be negative and they shot themselves in the foot once more. They ran so far in the opposite direction in fact that they produced a kind of anti-framing (on the principle of anti-matter) – political nomenclature that was so bland that not only did people not listen to it, they couldn't listen to it.

Thus a wonderful proposal to reverse the Liberal emphasis on rich private schools and begin funding on the basis of the needs of poor public schools was not framed in terms of benefit to students, or educational opportunity, or social justice, but was referred to solely as ‘Gonski’, the name of the man who produced the report on which the proposal was based. The use of such a meaningless anti-frame seemed so pleasing to Labor that they expanded on it with the even more meaningless slogan: ‘we give a Gonski’. Needless, perhaps, to say, the proposal was not understood by the public, not supported, and was attacked by the Liberals with that wonderfully cynical frame of ‘class warfare’.

Also popular were mind-numbing acronyms, beloved of bureaucrats and now it seemed of the determinedly non-framing Labor Party. A much needed scheme to improve funding for disabled people, so long casualties of the free market excesses of neo-conservatism, was referred to constantly simply as NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme), thus ensuring again that no member of the public would ever hear of it. A similar example was the NBN (National Broadband Network) with its related acronym FTTH (fibre to the home). The constant use of these acronyms left the public in the dark about the benefits of this extraordinary nation-building effort, and left it open for the opposition to obfuscate about its alternative, inferior proposal with its own acronyms like FTTN (fibre to the node).

As a kind of unconscious symbolism of the underlying problem, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese kept crowing about the 500+ ‘pieces of legislation’ they had passed through a hung parliament, as if the number of these, not their objectives, was the whole aim of the exercise of governing. Five hundred pieces of legislation is a substantial body of work that could be used to explain to voters what you were on about, how you were aiming to reach the light on the hill, and how you differed from the Opposition (who were determined, and immediately on election set about, to erase all 500 from the statute books).

A good frame for a political policy does two things: it makes the policy memorable and it provides a succinct statement about its purpose. By avoiding frames Labor abandoned all hope of doing either thing. Indeed they often, as in the case of the carbon tax, sorry, price on carbon, seemed to be clueless themselves about the purpose, blathering away about the technicalities of the scheme while rarely if ever mentioning climate change.

So while the Labor ants were busy busy busy working industriously away in the bowels of Parliament House, making provision for the winter, the Lib grasshoppers strutted around in the sunshine attracting attention with stunts and slogans. The slogans were the frames; the stunts were a way of hammering home those frames night after night: ‘Axe the tax’, ‘Stop the boats’, ‘End the waste’, ‘Balance the budget’, ‘Bad government’, ‘Ditch the witch’ and so on. The Liberal faceless woman had decided that any frame could be represented by a three-word slogan, a dressing-up outfit, and a Lib-voting shopkeeper. Enormously effective in both getting the message to the public and in forcing the government to play on your preferred turf, completely negating the home ground advantage an incumbent government normally enjoys.

Meanwhile, Labor ministers kept wandering around, convinced it seemed that good deeds were their own reward, and turning up with folders of facts and figures to counter three-word slogans. Never take a fact knife to a frame gunfight, I could have told them.

It's Time - time the Labor Party began to employ some Lakoff students to not only run campaigns but to do so while understanding that these days the next campaign starts the day after the election. You need to frame your win or loss and take it from there.

The early days of Bill Shorten, including his continued referral to ‘carbon tax’ and mutterings about whether they will vote for its removal, and his complete lack of ability so far to frame responses to any of the Liberal omni-shambles of their first month in office (secrecy, asylum seekers, dumping clean energy finance, dropping funding and standards for preschool and aged care, money borrowing, expenses rorts, handing the environment to states to wreck, and so on) makes it look as if this Dream Team thinks it can win the next election without a good dose of the Lakoffs.

The Light has gone out on the Hill.

How many Labor members will it take to fit a new bulb?

Do I have a mandate for you!

Prior to the election, Tony Abbott claimed that the election would be a referendum on the carbon price and Julie Bishop repeated this the day after the election (8 September). Since the election both Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt have claimed people voted to repeal the ‘carbon tax’ and have been pressuring Labor without necessarily using the word ‘mandate’. But on 10 October, in response to Clive Palmer creating a four-member voting bloc in the new Senate, Abbott did say:

I’m confident that everyone in this parliament very well understands that the new government has a clear mandate to get certain things done.

What is this mythical beast called a ‘mandate’?

There is no doubt that Abbott has a mandate to form a government as he has a majority in the House of Representatives, the Parliamentary chamber in which governments are formed. The Governor-General asks a person who has ‘the confidence of the House’ to form a government and, unless there is a split in the Coalition, Abbott can clearly claim that confidence.

No problems with that mandate, but that is the end of certainty.

Votes can be one way of considering a ‘mandate’ but the national vote does not automatically lead to Government. In fact, five times in 26 elections since 1946 a government has won the seats it needed to form government with less than half the national two party preferred (2PP) vote:

YearWinnerWinner’s 2PP (%)Winners majority
1954 Menzies 49.3 7
1961 Menzies 49.5 2
1969 Gorton 49.8 7
1990 Hawke 49.9 9
1998 Howard 48.9 13

John Howard in 1998 is a stand-out: the lowest recorded 2PP to win government but with a significant 13-seat majority. My own recollection of the 1998 election is that much of Labor’s increased vote occurred in Labor’s own seats, which did nothing to help it gain the additional seats it needed to win, although increasing its national vote.

So it is possible to achieve a mandate to govern but not a popular mandate from the voters.

Can we take the number of seats or the size of the majority as an indication of a mandate?

The way the single member seats in the HoR work also reflects that national votes do not match seat numbers. As the vote increases, the number of seats often increases in greater proportion. Some of the more significant wins in this way are:

YearWinnerWinner’s 2PP (%)Winner’s seats/seats in HoRWinner’s seats (%)Winners majority*
1949 Menzies 51.0 74/121 61.2 27
1958 Menzies 54.1 77/122 63.1 32
1966 Holt 56.9 82/124 61.2 27
1975 Fraser 55.7 91/127 71.7 55
1977 Fraser 54.6 86/124 69.4 48
1983 Hawke 53.2 75/125 60.0 25
1996 Howard 53.6 94/148 63.5 45
2013 Abbott 53.5 90/150 60.0 35

[* The majority shown is over the other major party and does not include minor parties or independents.]

Two other interesting results were:

YearWinnerWinner’s 2PP (%)Winner’s seats/seats in HoRWinner’s seats (%)Winners majority*
1980 Fraser 50.4 74/125 59.2 23
1987 Hawke 50.8 86/148 58.1 24

In both cases, Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke won the national vote by less than 1% but finished with comfortable majorities.

By contrast in 2010, Labor under Julia Gillard scraped home in the national vote, 50.1% to 49.9%, but managed only 48% of the seats (72 out of 150).

In the recent election about a quarter of Abbott’s seats came from the conjoined Liberal National Party in Queensland. It won 22 of 30 seats on a 8.9% share of the national first preference votes. Its share of the Queensland first preference vote was 45.7% and its 2PP, 56.5%: but this gave it 14.7% of the seats in the House of Representatives, and an amazing 73.3% of the Queensland seats.

So the number of seats in the HoR bears no direct relationship to the proportion of votes and suggests, that other than being able to form government, the number of seats held or the size of the majority are not very good indicators of a mandate.

And the vote was so close in a number of electorates that a shift in vote of 4,754 voters (about 0.04% of total votes) would cause Abbott to lose eight seats; a shift of 7,196 votes (0.06%) would lose him 12 seats; and a shift of 29,904 votes (0.25%) would lose him government (18 seats). While Abbott may claim a win on national votes and seats, it is on a slim margin when examined at the seat level.

If we break-down the 2013 election there are, in fact, several different mandates and not each is consistent with Abbott’s claim of a mandate.

In Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, the Coalition won the 2PP but by less than 1%. It would have taken only 20,809 voters in total across those three jurisdictions for Abbott to have lost the 2PP in them. Does he claim a mandate from those jurisdictions because 0.6% of voters (or 0.17% of the national vote) made the difference between winning and losing the vote? A fairly flimsy claim in my opinion, which means his mandate from Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory is marginal at best and in Victoria Labor did win a majority of seats.

In the ACT the vote was strongly Labor: 42.9% of first preference votes and 59.9% of the 2PP. So there is definitely no mandate for Abbott there, which is quite understandable given his ‘promises’ regarding the Public Service.

Chris Graham has also analysed the vote in distinctly Aboriginal communities and shown that in communities outside the Northern Territory the average vote for Labor was in the order of 71% and as high as 94%. In the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari different Aboriginal communities showed different swings, both to Labor and to the Coalition, but generally a move back towards Labor after a strong shift to the Coalition in 2010. As Graham headlines his article: ‘Abbott has no mandate from Aboriginal Australia’.

Abbott said in his victory speech that ‘a good government is one that governs for all Australians. Including those who haven’t voted for it.’ Does that mean he will take account of the mandates he does not have, from Aboriginal people and the ACT voters, or the marginal mandates from Victoria, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, and also the views (mandate) of the 5,583,200 who did not prefer the LNP as their government?

If he doesn’t, can we say that his is not a ‘good government’ by his own definition?

If he can’t really claim a mandate on the proportion of votes or the number of seats, or lacks a clear mandate from some groups and jurisdictions, that brings us to Abbott’s claim that the election was a ‘referendum’.

To be won, a normal referendum requires a majority of the votes and a majority (4) of the States. He did win the vote, 53.5% to 46.5%, and he also won all six States but, as with the discussion of the size of his victory, he won two by less than 1.0% and one by 2.4%. It would have required only 22,116 voters out of about 12 million, or 0.18%, for Abbott to have lost three States and therefore technically to have lost a ‘referendum’ – I think a bit too close to claim as a clear mandate.

Although on the figures Abbott may have just won a referendum, did the voters really enter polling booths with the carbon price foremost in their thoughts?

In July, prior to the election, polling was showing that, although a majority still opposed the carbon price, 53% against and 34% for, there was a general trend of slowly increasing acceptance since 2011. Also, a month before the election ‘climate change’ was rated last of ten issues that may influence voting. There was, however, a marked difference on party lines: while climate change was a clear last amongst LNP voters, it was actually sixth for Labor voters. How this may have affected voting is impossible to say but it does reduce the likelihood of voters seeing the vote as a referendum.

The fact is that on election day exit polls suggest between 3% and 8% of the voters considered the ‘carbon tax’ an influence on their vote. Only 1% of LNP voters mentioned the environment or climate change as an important consideration while 13% of ALP voters did.

So perhaps it was not a referendum at all – well, at least, not so far as the voters were concerned!

The final word on ‘mandates’ should rightly belong to Abbott himself. After the LNP election loss in 2007, he wrote:

The elected Opposition is no less entitled than the elected Government to exercise its political judgment and to try to keep its election commitments.

So, thank you Tony: the 5,583,200 voters who preferred Labor have also created a mandate as you pointed out in 2007, although it is not the one you are claiming now.

What do you think?

Where on earth is Lampedusa?

Australians are unfortunately used to headlines that another ‘boatload of asylum seekers’ has called for help near Christmas Island. All too frequently the Australian Navy is called upon to rescue people from boats that were not seaworthy enough to make the journey from a port in Indonesia, Sri Lanka or another location to the north of Christmas Island.

Enough printer’s ink to fill Sydney Harbour, and hundreds of millions of electrons, have been used in the past twenty years to ‘explain’ (read justify) positions in relation to asylum seekers. If you want to discover the actual and legal position on ‘irregular arrivals into any country’, you could begin with the Refugee Council of Australia’s website. The Refugee Council of Australia offers the following definition of a refugee – from the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees – to which Australia is a signatory:

Any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

Like a lot of Australians I was saddened but not surprised at the loss of human life when the media reported during October this year that another boatload carrying asylum seekers had sunk – and it was estimated that 345 of the passengers on the ship had drowned. What I wasn’t expecting was the mention of the location of the incident – Lampedusa. I have a reasonable knowledge of Australian geography and my first question was ‘Where on earth is Lampedusa?’, given that the narrative widely promoted within Australia for a number of years described asylum seeker boats as a purely Australian/South-East Asian problem. I was curious when I found out that Lampedusa is, in fact, in Italy – and the asylum seekers were from northern Africa.

It was reported widely in Australia, as in Guardian Australia on the 10th October, that those that drowned at Lampedusa were to be given a state funeral by the Italian Government. When the Italian Government later determined that those who lost their lives would receive a memorial service rather than the state funeral promised by the Italian Prime Minister, criticism came from a number of influential parties, including the Mayor of Lampedusa.

Guardian Australia also reported that:

This year more than 30,000 migrants have sailed to Italy, of whom 7,500 were Syrians fleeing their civil war, 7,500 Eritreans escaping a brutal regime and 3,000 avoiding violence in Somalia.

By contrast, Operation Sovereign Borders Acting Commander, Air Marshal Mark Binskin announced the same week:

For the October 4-11 reporting period, a total of 111 people were transferred to the offshore processing centres on Nauru.

Since the new government's Operation Sovereign Borders began three weeks ago, a total of 215 arrivals have been transferred to the centres, including Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

As of Friday, there were 1059 detainees on Manus, 800 on Nauru and 2176 on Christmas Island.

Let’s compare those numbers. Up to 345 people died at Lampedusa while 111 people in total arrived in Australia in the same week. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) gives a detailed listing of asylum seeker numbers, globally, in an Excel spreadsheet.

Australians have often been described as living in a land where ‘everyone is equal’ and ‘where Jack is as good as his master’ and in a society ‘where anyone will help out a mate’. There is some evidence to support this mantra; for example:

  • In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 flooding throughout Queensland, a number of cities and towns were overwhelmed with volunteers willing to help those less well-off get back on their feet. Brisbane City Council provided a fleet of buses to transport the ‘mud army’, consisting of thousands of people, across the city to areas of need.
  • Every SES person on the ground from Byron Bay to Port Headland is a volunteer, as are those members of service clubs such as Apex or Lions. They all make a magnificent effort to help out a mate who needs it, in some form or other, every year.
Australia is supposed to be a Christian country. Our current Prime Minister is a self-confessed practising Roman Catholic – and commenced training to be a Jesuit priest. His immediate predecessor was frequently shown on the Sunday news bulletins leaving an Anglican church. There is a paragraph in the bible that can be paraphrased as ‘do unto others as they do to you’. There are similar sentiments in the holy book of Islam, The Koran, and in Buddhism.

Despite this tenet of faith, and the claims of being a ‘Christian’ country, Australians frequently make the following statements:

1. People who arrive here and claim refugee status are taking our jobs.

The evidence would suggest not, as the unemployment rate in Australia has been sitting at under 10% since the days when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister. In fact, the entire argument for the resettlement of refugees from Europe, post World War II, was to expand the country and its economy.

In Italy, for example, towns are welcoming the chance to be revitalised by the settlement of asylum seekers seeking refugee status.

2. People who arrive here and claim refugee status can claim more benefits than ‘ordinary Aussies’.

The Refugee Council of Australia states:

A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia receives exactly the same social security benefits as any Australian resident in the same circumstances. Refugees apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else. There are no separate Centrelink allowances that one can receive simply by virtue of being a refugee.

3. Asylum seekers are queue jumpers or ‘illegal immigrants’.

Under the UN Convention, you cannot apply for refugee status from your own country. Refugee camps also work on a needs basis – rather than a formal queue.

Illegal immigrants are those that enter legally and overstay their Visa – there were in excess of 60,000 people in this group in the end of 2011, according to the Herald Sun, and the report suggests the number is climbing. By contrast, at the beginning of October 2013, slightly over 4,000 people are in asylum seeker camps established by the Australian Government.

Australians raise these kinds of questions regarding refugees. Italians criticise their government for not providing state funerals, although attempting to provide assistance and support to those that survive. Why is there such a difference in attitude between the Italians and the Australians?

According to UNHCR, Italy had 17,352 people request asylum in 2012; Australia had 15,996. Remembering that you do not have to claim asylum in the first country you come to, the EU had 358,285 people claim asylum in 2012; our region (Australia and New Zealand) had 16,320. Italy offers state funerals to a large number of victims of a ship sinking – Australia makes pregnant asylum seekers give birth in sub-standard conditions, something criticised by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Various Australian politicians have suggested ‘tough’ asylum seeker policies will stop people getting on unsafe boats and subsequently dying at sea. In Europe, they are asking why people get onto unsafe boats.

You may be surprised to know that even the ultra-conservative Fox News in the US reports European asylum seeker boats that sink sympathetically and apparently has done so for some time; until recently, our media hasn’t.

While the Europeans are discussing ways to ensure people don’t have to get onto unseaworthy boats, we are not. Australian politicians, and sadly a significant proportion of the Australian public, seem to believe that being ‘tough’ on asylum seekers who arrive here will help people accept what may be draconian living conditions in their home country – which is clearly a fallacy. This is treating the symptom rather than the root cause. It could be compared with attempting to turn off a dripping tap with greater force (symptom) rather than replacing the washer (root cause).

The previous and current Australian Governments both claim to take the high moral ground on a number of issues with self-confessed practising Christians as the last two respective Prime Ministers. When the Italians who receive a higher number of asylum seekers per annum than we do are so upset about the unnecessary death of over 300 people – as they should be – what is this country’s excuse for using asylum seekers as a ‘tough on crime’ issue in a similar way to how various state governments are using ‘outlaw’ motor bike groups?

What happened to ‘do unto others’?

How does our treatment of asylum seekers in the 21st century demonstrate the fabled ‘help a mate’ attitude of Australians?

Why are immigrants to Australia victimised when we are all descended from immigrants?

Why are asylum seekers a domestic political issue?

Probably the saddest thing about this issue is that so-called Christian politicians, who claim to value human life, are so blinded by the domestic political opportunity they forget a fundamental belief they claim to live their lives by – ‘do unto others as you wish them to do to you’ – and have convinced a significant proportion of the population of the merits of the case.

What do you think?

What happened to leadership and conviction?

Why are politicians reacting to polls instead of driving them?

In a previous piece on TPS, I contended that politicians had granted political influence to Rupert Murdoch by believing they will ‘live and die’ by the polls and reacting to the fortnightly Murdoch (Newspoll) polls rather than attempting to drive them.

There are two types of relevant polling: ‘voter intention’ polling and ‘issues’ polling. Most attention is given to the first. Politicians, however, often attempt to influence voter intention by reacting to some aspect of issues polling – but this is not driving the polls.

What I mean by ‘driving the polls’ is setting the agenda through displaying leadership and conviction, acting on principle and providing inspiration for a better future. They are the approaches that I believe can make people take notice and that will then be reflected in the polls.

First, one needs to understand what polls are telling us.

All pollsters when put on the spot will fall back on the old rule that a poll only measures public opinion, it does not predict it. Polls tell you what public opinion was, not what it will be.

Which is where people misunderstand the meaning of margin of error. This weekend Newspoll will be polling Federal voting intention, and the poll will be reported with a margin of error of about 3%. That means there is a 95% probability that the real measure of people’s voting intentions this weekend will lie within 3% of the figure reported by Newspoll.

That does not mean that come the election, the result will be within 3% of the poll. The margin of error is a measure of the error margin on a sample, not the error margin on a prediction.

Followers of TPS well know that the media pursues each voter intention poll as if it is predicting the outcome of any forthcoming election, even twelve months out. Reports will often carry the caveat, ‘if an election was held this weekend’, but the accompanying commentary usually makes it appear this is bad for the election prospects of whichever party is trailing.

The other major issue with media reporting of polls is the insistence that every little movement has meaning. The truth is that if a poll moves only 1-2% it is within the margin of error and may, in fact, indicate no movement at all.

Unfortunately, politicians seem to believe this media commentary and start trawling the issues polling for something they can seize on that may lift their standing in the voter intention polls.

While voter intention polls are not predictive, they do say a great deal about the electorate’s view of politicians at particular points in time.

Before the 2007 election Rudd was telling the populace, and indeed later repeated it at the United Nations, that climate change was ‘the greatest moral challenge facing our generation’. In meeting that conviction after he came to Government, he negotiated a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) with then Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. (The value of that scheme has been much debated but that aspect is irrelevant to the argument here.) Whatever its worth, it was a fulfilment of the rhetoric that preceded it. He also ratified the Kyoto Protocol and gave a national apology to the Indigenous Stolen Generations, both of which he had promised during the election campaign. It gave the appearance of conviction and leadership.

After being elected in 2007, Labor had maintained a strong ‘two party preferred’ (2PP) lead over the Opposition in the polls but on 27 April 2010 Rudd announced he was abandoning, at least for then, the CPRS.

The Newspoll results before and after the announcement make a telling point.

Poll dates
Labor primary
vote (%)
LNP primary
vote (%)
Labor 2PP
vote (%)
vote (%)
16-18 April 43 40 54 46
30 Apr – 2 May 35 43 49 51

Labor suffered an 8% loss in its primary vote and a 10% turn-around in the 2PP in just a fortnight. Voters were disillusioned - again!

Rudd had given the appearance of a man of conviction, with a grand rhetoric of his vision, but shown there was little conviction behind the rhetoric. He had abandoned leadership and the voters knew it.

Julia Gillard’s reference to the ‘real Julia’ during the 2010 election campaign confirmed the view that politicians are all ‘spin’, reacting to polls, being told what to say and do by media advisers, and offering little to lead the nation.

Abbott’s later inflated rhetoric, such as Whyalla being wiped off the map by the introduction of a carbon price, didn’t help. After the introduction of the carbon price on 1 July 2012, none of Abbott’s hyperbole came to fruition. For much of the electorate it was simply another case of not being able to believe what politicians told them.

What Rudd, Gillard and Abbott managed to do was reinforce the population’s low regard of politicians as demonstrated by the Reader’s Digest annual poll of ‘Australia’s Most Trusted Professions’. Although the number and naming of professions has changed over the years, politicians have consistently rated near car salesmen and similar groups:

  • In 2007 politicians were ranked equal last, with car salesmen, of 40 professions (actually ranked 38th owing to tied results). Journalists were ranked 34th, with real estate agents, sex workers and psychics-astrologists separating them from politicians.
  • In 2010 politicians were ranked 38th of 40 professions, having climbed above car salesmen and also above telemarketers. Journalists were then 35th, with real estate agents and sex workers still between them and the politicians.
  • In 2013 the list included 50 professions and politicians ranked 49th, above only door-to-door salespeople. Journalists were then 43rd while talkback radio hosts, real estate agents, sex workers, call centre staff and insurance salespeople ranked below them but above politicians.
It could be said that this creates ‘a perfect storm’ fuelling the electorate’s cynicism: untrusted journalists reporting on untrusted politicians, using polls in unjustified ways.

The Rudd example in 2010 demonstrates that what politicians say and do influences the polls, particularly negatively when what they do does not match what they say.

Abbott fed this constantly in his attacks on the Government when Opposition Leader and reacted to it at his swearing-in as Prime Minister when he said ‘We hope to be judged by what we have done, rather than by what we have said we would do.’ He is essentially trying to ‘cover his arse’ for those times when his actions do not match his words. He is not attempting to drive the polls in any positive way but merely trying to dampen them in advance.

In the lead up to, and during the 2013 election, there were many examples of politicians reacting to both voter intention and issues polling and precious few (actually none that I recall) of attempting to drive the polls. Their reactions were intended to neutralise issues the polls were telling them may influence voters; for example:

  • Abbott accepted the NDIS and ‘Gonski’ because the polls showed these were popular in the electorate and would favour Labor if he opposed them;
  • Rudd brought forward the move to emissions trading by one year, to replace the fixed price on carbon emissions, and adopted a much tougher stance on refugees arriving by boat, also in response to polling.
What neither chose to do was state that their position was right and argue for it: conviction had disappeared. The voters saw this for what it was: simply politics, no conviction, no leadership, resulting in an increased vote for minor parties (12.4%, excluding the Greens, compared with 6.9% in 2010). The electorate knows that a minor party will never govern the country but at least they appear to stand for something, even Family First, rather than wavering in the wind to every nuance of the polls.

By the time of the election, I think many voters were feeling they had Hobson’s choice between a media-managed politician and a poll-driven politician who had previously lost credibility.

Abbott’s approach can perhaps be justified because the LNP held a comfortable lead in most polls leading to the election, and to keep them that way he essentially had to do nothing – which is exactly what he did!

Rudd had lost credibility after his 2010 decision and did nothing during the campaign to regain it. There was an initial surge in the polls when he resumed the leadership but his decisions, such as those noted above, merely reiterated he was just another politician reacting to polls. To overcome his previous loss of credibility he needed to display conviction and provide inspiration, but he didn’t.

In December 1941, John Curtin took the nation with him in his inspiring speech that Australia would ‘look to America’. It is sometimes forgotten that the speech also took the nation to a full ‘war footing’, affecting the lives of every Australian and promising difficult times ahead. Leadership can be about unpopular but necessary decisions, and arguing the case and inspiring people to accept them for future benefit. But current politicians, by constantly reacting to polling, are avoiding such decisions.

There are more recent speeches that have provided inspiration: e.g. Keating’s ‘Redfern speech’ and his speech at the entombment of the Unknown Soldier at the Australian War Memorial, and Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations.

There was positive movement in the polls after Keating’s speech at the Australian War Memorial (11 November 1993): Labor increased 2% in voter intention, the LNP dropped 3%, and Keating’s ‘satisfaction’ jumped 3% (but only from 26% to 29%).

There was also a movement in the polls around the time of Rudd’s ‘apology’ (13 February 2008). In the Newspoll conducted on 15-17 February 2008 Labor’s primary vote was 46% but a fortnight later had jumped to 51%. I think the ‘apology’ played a part but the poll may have included a reaction to the Coalition’s childish behaviour on 22 February when it took a cardboard cut-out of Rudd into the Parliament. The Coalition’s behaviour may have made, by comparison, the speech’s dignity and inspiration appear more relevant.

It suggests such inspirational speeches can have an impact. And if joined with conviction, principles and leadership, they become a more potent force for driving the polls.

When politicians take a stand, it is legitimate to ask are they are doing so on principle or reacting to something appearing in issues polling? Even if the latter, a principled stand on an issue can give the politician credit for the future and flow into voter intention.

John Howard, for example, not known for his oratory, at least took a principled decision regarding the ‘gun buy-back’ after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. He did so despite strong opposition from gun owners and some National members of his own Coalition, but with the overwhelming support of the majority of the population. In that case, he was reacting to strong public opinion following the massacre (at the time the worst in the world in terms of numbers killed by a lone gunman) and followed through despite the opposition.

In a modern democracy, issues polling can be important in revealing the ‘will of the people’ but if followed unthinkingly by politicians, without underpinning principles to weigh the polls against, politicians will often react with bad policy that has not been thought through.

If the electorate is currently cynical and distrustful of politicians, it is because the politicians have given them good grounds to be. To change the electorate’s perception, politicians need to stop reacting to polls with ‘band-aid’ (bad) policies. They need to:

  • provide inspiration,
  • show conviction for what they believe, and
  • provide leadership.
With conviction, leadership and inspiration they can shape the issues polling and influence voter intention. If they do this, politicians will be driving the polls again, something they have chosen not to do since … well, I’m not sure I can remember the last time!

Can politicians really set the (issues) agenda with genuine leadership?

Will the electorate listen if they hear conviction in political statements?

Can an inspiring vision for the future change voting intention?

Will all three together drive the polls?

What do you think?

Time for a third force in Ozpol

Australia needs a third, viable, major political party.

This is obvious, to me. At their core, the policies of the two major parties are diametrically opposed. The Labor party is the progressive party that builds the country’s infrastructure and provides welfare programs. The Liberal party is the regressive party that sells the infrastructure and bolsters business in the fond belief that the created wealth will trickle down to those less well off.

The above view is a simple one. Some may argue that the policies of the two major parties are very similar. I have never thought so. I think the claim of ‘similarity’ is easily made, picked up and repeated without being thoroughly examined. Recently, for example, the former LNP Opposition argued against the Labor government’s Better Schools funding (Gonski), but at the last minute agreed to maintain the policy if it won government. This does not mean the two major parties now have the same policy. It means a bone of contention was removed at the last minute to appease certain sections of the electorate.

There is no guarantee the LNP government will keep the policy because it has a strategy of maintaining fears and doubts about the state of the economy and a mania for a Budget surplus. The same could apply to Labor’s National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Consider also the different approaches of the two major parties to environmental protection and carbon pollution.

I’ll leave it to others to nit-pick over the sameness and differences of the two majors. I’ll simply state that the almost unbelievable arrogance and self-indulgence of the Labor governments of the past six years have given the LNP Coalition a free ride into office. If the people were forcefully rejecting Labor, they were not necessarily voting for the coalition’s policies. Given the nature of the news media coverage at the time, few would be aware of what policies were being offered by either party.

We now have to endure the dismantling of some of Labor’s achievements and the sale of public assets, not because that is what Australia needs right now but because it is what Liberal political philosophy dictates. This will happen because there is simply no choice at present. You either have government by Labor or Liberal, and they are worlds apart (see: Prologue to IPA’s 100-item list to change Australia).

If former PM Kevin Rudd’s party reforms work, there is hope for a more stable Labor government at some future time. But it was Rudd’s opposition to union factionalism (and a decline in opinion polling for a number of reasons) that got him sacked in the first place – by the Right-wing union faction. The Right wing’s man, Bill Shorten, has won the leadership contest over Anthony Albanese, and it remains to be seen if the internal wrangling will continue, with Rudd fiddling away on the back bench, playing the game of sabotage for which he is renowned.

The Liberal party coalition with the National Party of Australia is not as secure as the Liberals would have you believe. There were tensions during the past three years (notably between the WA Libs and Nats over issues related to wheat marketing), but the Liberal PR machine did a good job of largely keeping it out of the news media.

New points of contention are rising. They concern the fate of the National Broadband Network (NBN), the sale of wheat marketing infrastructure and agricultural land to foreigners and the continuing feeling of isolation and neglect in country and regional areas. Liberal plans to cap university places and a disguised attack on university union funding have led to protests from the Nationals and their country cousins. The Liberal’s plans to devolve environmental decision-making to the States in order to speed up mining project initiation will lead to more friction. Farmers and some country townsfolk have for years been concerned about the encroachment of mining and fracking activities and their effects on lifestyles and health. The abolition of the carbon tax, the cutting of red and green tape and moves to fast track mining approvals are causes for concern – creating points of tension.

The Liberals are unlikely to gain government without the support of the Nationals (2013 federal election primary vote ALP 4,311,431 - 33.4%, Liberal 4,134,750 - 32%, Nationals, various forms, 1,748,066 - 13.5%). Is it conceivable that the Nationals could withdraw their support of the Liberals? Is it more likely they would use the threat of withdrawal to force concessions on policies? Their deputy leader, Barnaby Joyce, has achieved stage two of his goal to become the federal leader: he now has a Lower House seat. When federal leader Warren Truss retires, Joyce probably will become federal leader of the National party. When he became leader of the Nationals in the Senate in 2008 he warned the Coalition government it could no longer rely on the support of his party in the Senate. Joyce crossed the floor 19 times during the Howard government era and is a threat to Liberal power. I’ve no doubt the Liberals will use their news media machinery to destroy him if push comes to shove.

The Liberals and the Nationals have an agreement to contest the same seats in some areas. I don’t know how either party finds that situation tolerable. Losing a seat to your ally must create an uneasy situation, especially when there are differences in party policies.

If the Nationals were to pull support, would another party fill the void in the coalition, would Labor govern for decades, or would a third party arise? Neither Katter’s Australia Party nor Palmer’s United Party are yet strong enough to constitute a third, viable, force. Katter and Palmer have their origins in Queensland’s Liberal National Party. The Nationals had their origin in the defunct, or rebadged, Country Party. Given their history and interests today, both men are likely to side with the Liberal federal government, although Palmer’s collection of policies and some of his public pronouncements are hard to reconcile with Liberal philosophy.

Illustration by Kaja Malouf

There are also serious questions about whether Katter and Palmer are stable enough to be taken seriously. In my opinion, Joyce, Katter and Palmer belong in the same silly boat – each of them rowing in a different direction. Why the eponymous party names, in the case of Katter and Palmer? Are they capitalising on the unfortunate trend towards Presidential personality campaigning? The last thing this country needs is another egomaniac pulling the levers and it seems the ALP has recently recognised the dangers in that.

Putting aside the turmoil of WWII Australian politics, there have been few notable attempts to establish a third, viable, political party. Some may remember the split in Labor ranks (1955) that led to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party (1957), with one elected Member today (Senator John Madigan). For that split we can thank the extreme Right-wing Catholic ‘Bob’ Santamaria. His ghost and anti-union rhetoric lives on today in the form of arch disciple Tony Abbott.

Another serious attempt to form a third force was made by the Australian Democrats (1977), a merger of the Australia Party and the New Liberal Movement, led by former Liberal federal Minister Don Chipp. The Australian Democrats had promise and some success in getting Senate seats, before gradually tearing itself to pieces over a 30-year period. It is reorganising, but initially on a States-only basis.

There was also Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Its xenophobic stance attracted wide support in Queensland, where the party originated, but attracted anger elsewhere, especially in the federal parliament and the news media. The party won 19 State seats in Queensland – scaring the pants off the Liberal party. The now xenophobic ‘Stop the boats’ Tony Abbott responded by creating and raising funds for the Australians for Honest Politics Trust – money that was used to take Hanson and co-founder David Ettridge to court for ‘electoral fraud’, which resulted in them being jailed for some months. Ettridge is now suing Tony Abbott, claiming $1.5 million damages. Hanson failed to win a NSW federal seat at the 2013 election.

‘Tearing itself to pieces’ seems to be the disease of the Australian Labor Party – and it’s contagious. The Greens caught the bug some time ago and went into severe regression on 26 September, 2013. Numerous staff resigned over the running of the federal election campaign. There is some uncertainty about whether there was a simultaneous attempt to install the party’s deputy leader, Lower House MP Adam Bandt, or Senator Sarah Hanson-Young as national leader in place of Senator Christine Milne.

The Greens need to pull themselves together after the punishing swing to the Liberals, which cost the Greens 4.7% of their vote, along with two Senators (although ‘Senator’ Scott Ludlam has won a rare recount). It would be a shame if the Greens were to destroy themselves as other alternative parties have done. They seem to me to be a natural partner for Labor, although they have had problems aligning policy details on carbon pricing and refugee or asylum seeker policies.

Perhaps the problem with a Greens Labor alliance is that Labor sees itself as the party with all the policies and all the solutions for any given problem. If that’s the case, it’s hard to see how it could cooperate with any other party, even one that was somewhat similar. In that case, it has to find some way to counter the LNP coalition, the future risk of ‘hung’ or minority governments, the trend towards increasing numbers of Independent or non-aligned Senators and the frustration of losing an election due to the distribution of preferences.

There is also a risk that Labor is not strong enough to overcome the powers aligned against it today, especially the commercially owned news media and the persistent effort over the past decade at least to install a Right-wing bias in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). To get off topic for a moment, some way must be found to guarantee the impartiality of ABC News and Current Affairs because its untraceable efforts at ‘balance over time’ make it appear to be always unbalanced in one direction or the other. The balance within its supposedly independent complaints body also warrants investigation.

The September 2013 election was remarkable for the number of new parties that fought for a seat, especially in the Senate. Next July we will have a motley crew of ‘Independent’ Senators, with a bloc of four consisting of three Palmer United Party Senators and Senator Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party. Writing in the Business Spectator (a wholly owned News Corp subsidiary), veteran business journalist Robert Gottliebsen claims Tony Abbott has the Senate sewn up and the PUP bloc, including Senator Muir, will support the Liberal government’s policies. That article, written on 9 October, is at odds with what Clive Palmer said the following day, commenting on his deal with Senator Muir.

It’s just possible that none of them will sit in the Senate because the Mad Monk may bring on a Double Dissolution to satisfy his lust for unrestricted power. See Gottliebsen’s first six points below for his thoughts on what might trigger a DD. But Gottliebsen also says Tony Abbott might avoid a DD because the voters hate early elections. I have yet to read or hear anyone ask why Tony Abbott wants total power in both Houses and what he’ll do with it if he gets it (see ‘What Tony Abbott will do’, in relation to the proposals of the Institute of Public Affairs).

Gottliebsen, who might have a reliable source of information within the federal government, has also written about Tony Abbott’s 12-point plan to transform Australia. (See Gottliebsen's first six points of Abbott's 12-point plan and the second six points.)

That 12-point plan is another reason why Australia needs a viable third political party. As stated above, when you get down to it the two majors are not similar – they are very different. When the government changes hands, the country swings wildly to the Left or the Right. The Right believes it must move much further to the Right because the Left will inevitably take the country further Left again (see again IPA 100 item agenda prologue). It’s about as silly as politics can get, with ideology overruling common sense and even the common good. Prime examples are Abbott’s determination to abolish carbon pricing, disband environmental advisory bodies, cut funding to NGOs, install a third rate NBN and introduce an outlandish Paid Parental Leave scheme to replace the one we have.

Gottliebsen’s 12-point plan story and the IPA’s 100-point plan (12 of which points Tony Abbott has said he will adopt and implement) demonstrate the chaotic nature of the Duopoly roundabout.

A third party that can win and govern alone would interrupt these wild pendulum swings. If a third party was occasionally successful in gaining government there would be less opportunity and a longer wait between ruinous bouts of excessive sell-offs and cutbacks or expensive social welfare programs.

Looking way ahead, what is the outcome of the platforms of the two major parties, and where do we go from there? After the Liberals have sold everything and cut taxes, regulations and wages to the bone, what’s next? After Labor has cemented every possible workplace and social welfare program permanently in place, what then? Is this why these two major parties are subtly changing, sometimes appearing to be similar, but always retaining the essential difference of Labour versus Capital? There is, perhaps, only so much political parties can achieve before they become irrelevant, useless or merely tax collection and distribution agencies.

In the meantime, where is the third alternative or even steadying influence? One party that emerged about 12 months before the election was The Australian Independents. It had a decent list of policies and some wholesome middle-class candidates. But it played its cards a bit too close to its chest and seemed to be publicity shy, which is not to say it was secretive. The leader, Dr Patricia Petersen, who I am told is a long-term perpetual candidate, is unfortunately hard to contact.

Katter’s, Palmer’s and Petersen’s parties offer something that was pioneered by the Australian Democrats. They say they are recruiting candidates who will swear to vote for local issues – true local representatives. Revisiting this issue is a reflection on how fed up we are with the majors and the bigger minors*. But how will the practice work out when a local issue clashes with the party’s stated policy?

*See The Sydney Morning Herald editorial of 24 September, 2013: ‘Greens need to win middle Australia - and follow Don Chipp's diktat’.

I’d vote for an Atheists Party. An atheists party can’t simply stand for non-belief in a spiritual being. It must have a raft of policies. One would be getting religion out of schools and focusing on science and ethics instead. I see atheism as essential for the future well-being of ourselves and our planet – especially for the environment and the critters we should be sharing it with. My atheism is about reality, about being grounded in reality and relying on science to understand our world and our place in it. We need to get real about our world, our situation (see IPCC Summary for Policymakers, the 2013 report). Leaving the big outcomes to the good graces of a mythical being is a risky strategy.

I have avoided a detailed discussion of policies and their alternatives. We are not short of political parties or policies. Like many other things in this country, we now have an embarrassment of riches. What we don’t have is a viable third force. But we do have alternatives that do not represent a drastic, even catastrophic, change. We need one of these third elements to gain sufficient support so that we can have change without chaos. Moving back and forth from Liberal to Labor is chaotic – the change is often too great and too disruptive.

I don’t want to overplay the Labor drum, but for its sins of self-indulgence Labor has been turfed and the people have no choice but to give the Liberals another go. They have made that decision without being fully aware of the Liberal agenda, of the changes that will now take place. It is naïve of anyone to think the agenda consists merely of Tony Abbott’s six-point slogans:

  • We’ll build a stronger, more diversified economy so everyone can get ahead;
  • We’ll scrap the carbon tax so the average family will be $550 better off next year alone;
  • We’ll get the Budget back under control by ending Labor’s waste;
  • We’ll create two million new jobs within a decade;
  • We’ll stop the boats with proven policies;
  • And we’ll build the roads of the 21st century.
If you can read between the lines of the above slogans, you will see there is a lot of missing detail. The devil that is the Liberal philosophy is in those missing details of policy implementation and what that means for various classes of citizens.

There’s plenty of room for a strong third party, plenty of people fed up with the chaos of frequent change within the Duopoly. We don’t need a political party that scares industry, business and investors to death, or one that drives pensioners, the disabled and the disadvantaged to an early grave. Because of eternal frustration with the Left Right swing of the pendulum, it is time for a third party with a broad vision and a plan for our future.

For those who are not welded to one ideology, I’ve put links to several parties’ policies on one page on my website. You’ll find a menu under Categories, on the left-hand side.

Tony Abbott’s ‘Cone of Silence’

Those ‘of a certain age’ will remember the 60s’ TV show Get Smart that featured the brilliant writing of Mel Brooks as well as the incredible acting of Don Adams, Barbara Feldon and Edward Platt. Don Adams was Agent 86 in the US Secret Agency known as Control; Barbara Feldon was Agent 99 and Edward Platt was ‘Chief’. Their nemesis was an organisation called Kaos. Those who know the show will instantly remember the ‘Cone of Silence’, a piece of ‘high technology’ equipment. It was supposed to ensure that if microphones were planted in the Chief’s office, they would be useless. While the Cone of Silence may have been a good idea, the implementation left a lot to be desired. (For those unfamiliar with the concept – this clip explains how it failed.)

In a complete turn-around from his actions in Opposition - where appearing in an industrial setting with freshly ironed hi-vis vest was de rigueur - the Prime Minister now wants to control the information flow to the media differently. It seems, now that the LNP has won the election, the Prime Minister wants to operate in a Cone of Silence. Will it be any better than the version that people have been laughing at for decades on TV?

Tony Abbott has declared at a news conference that he will only speak as Prime Minister when he has something to say and that he won’t be feeding the 24-hour news cycle. It has also been widely reported that all interviews with Ministers have to be approved by the Prime Minister’s Office 24 hours prior to the interview. (It is ironic that the decision that all Ministers must seek approval prior to participating in interviews was leaked!)

Evidence of this ‘cone of silence’ policy can be found in three recent events:

  • Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announces that refugee boat arrivals and ‘turn backs’ will be only discussed at a weekly briefing due to ‘operational security’ rather than as the event occurs.
  • Treasurer Joe Hockey announces that the Federal Government’s finances are being investigated line by line, while having to announce a better than expected result from the last financial year.
  • Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with her Indonesian counterpart to discuss refugee boats and declares the meeting details will not be disclosed or discussed.
A month or so into the term of the Coalition Government, just how is this policy panning out?

After Abbott’s announcement, there had been plenty of muted supporting comment from the media: Jacqueline Maley’s ‘Don’t feed the chooks’; Barry Cassidy’s ‘Abbott wise to pull back... but not too far’; and Dee Madigan’s ‘Tone it down’.

Then on September 26, Fairfax headlined a piece ‘Abbott assures nation he is hard at work’. Perhaps Abbott realised that ‘refusing to participate in the news cycle’ could be construed as ‘nothing was happening’. Obviously this was a message the Prime Minister didn’t want to send.

And a rather interesting piece in the SMH from Tony Wright followed on 27th September:

Small factory in the suburbs? Check. Fluro jacket? Check. It is as if Tony Abbott never wanted the election campaign to end.

Mention the carbon tax? Promise to get the budget back in control? Stop the boats? Build the roads of the 21st century?

Check, check, check and check.

This report continues:

He could barely keep his hands off the containers of laundry powders and stain removers. His craving for a factory photo-op satiated, the Prime Minister offered himself to cameras and journalists for precisely the sort of doorstop he held every day of the campaign.

Scott Morrison’s clampdown on refugee boat announcements has gone equally as well.

Someone on Christmas Island has been using Twitter to advise how many people arrive on each boat. On 27 September the ABC and commercial media were reporting that 10 refugee boats had arrived since the election date, three of them since the Coalition Government had been sworn in. Over the weekend of 28 and 29 September, a news story unfolded on the commercial television networks reporting that people had drowned in another refugee boat heading for Australia. The reporters were stating clearly they were not getting comment from the Government – and that was simply not good enough.

Now that the Prime Minister and Foreign Ministers have spoken to their Indonesian counterparts, apparently the LNP policy wasn’t to ‘turn around’ refugee boats anyway:

Morrison said the Coalition had “never had a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia” and blamed “misrepresentation over a long period of time” in the media for that impression.

In late September Joe Hockey released the final accounting for the Federal Government’s 2012-2013 Financial Year where the headline was an $18.8 billion deficit (down from a projected $19.4 billion on August 2, 2013).

According to Michael Pascoe in Fairfax media:

It's yet another case of politics overshadowing economics: while newbie Treasurer Joe Hockey insinuates otherwise, the final count for the 2012-13 federal budget is an outstanding achievement, a monument to a skilled Treasury performance in very difficult circumstances.

Hockey certainly didn’t give credit to either his Department or the former Treasurer for a job well done. However, he has ‘deferred’ the surplus promised by Abbott while listing how often Swan promised the same thing.

The new Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, met her Indonesian counterpart at the United Nations in New York to discuss, amongst other issues, the Coalition Government policy on refugee boats. According to the Foreign Minister, the conversation was private and Australia’s position was explained.

The Indonesian Government had a differing opinion – it released the notes of the discussion while stating that the policy of ‘turning back the boats’ was not supported. As reported by the ABC:

The ABC's Indonesia correspondent George Roberts told PM, the statement is a rare move from a nation that is usually much more circumspect in diplomacy.

"Even in recent history, the foreign minister has been very reluctant to speak openly and has been very diplomatic about it," he said.

"So this kind of language is quite strong and quite interesting indeed.”

While there would be little support for yet another three years of election campaigning, does PM Abbott really expect that all of the fourth and fifth estates will, now that he is in power, concede ‘there is nothing to see here and let’s move on’?

Early in October, an opinion piece by Mark Kenny reported:

In one of the lighter moments towards the end of the recent presidential-style election campaign, Labor's campaign headquarters issued a press statement configured as a faux police bulletin.

It said grave fears were held for the whereabouts of once high profile Liberals, Peter Dutton, Sophie Mirabella, and Eric Abetz.

The respective health, industry, and workplace relations shadow ministers had become almost invisible. Labor was desperate to draw them on to policy terrain usually judged as stronger for the ALP.

The crux of the article is the ALP’s claim that while disciplined media management is a positive in Opposition, it is a negative in Government. Abbott is maintaining the same management policy in Government, which leads us as the employers of the Government to believe they are doing nothing. When the inevitable ‘crisis’ happens, not only are the relevant Ministers unprepared for the attention it will place on their shoulders, they will be an easy mark for the more critical elements of the media pack.

It is often said that those that don’t remember history are bound to repeat it. Probably the most relevant example of this is the former Premier of Victoria Ted Ballieu. News reports at the time of his overthrow (who said the ALP was the only political party to turf out current leaders while in power?) suggested that a large part of the reason for his demise was his lack of connection with the media, leading to the Victorian Government becoming almost invisible. Ballieu is still a member of the Victorian Parliament – but no one outside Victoria hears anything about him.

By contrast, when the self-confessed ‘media tart’ Peter Beattie chose to run in a southern Brisbane seat in the recent Federal election nearly a decade after being Premier of Queensland he was the subject of national media coverage. Beattie knew how to participate in the media. He had been re-elected as Premier in 2001, and in 2004 in the middle of a scandal involving members of his Government – promising to ‘clean the mess up’. While publicity may not have helped Beattie win the Federal Seat in 2013, one never knows if the result would have been worse for the ALP if Beattie had not run.

Politicians in general like to control the message and in this respect Tony Abbott is no different from those that preceded him. Both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard attempted to manage the media in different ways: Rudd by going into infinite detail when questioned and Gillard on occasions by literally standing there and taking all questions until there were no more. Both of them had good policies and decisions to publicise but limited success in crafting a story that the media accepted. Ultimately, the lack of the ability to craft and generate ‘good’ news stories about life in Australia led to their demise at the hands of the members of their own political party. In both cases there were other factors at play as well. Rudd’s apparent ‘control freak’ tendencies, and various sections of the ALP never resolving their differences with the way in which Kevin Rudd was replaced by Gillard, certainly didn’t help. It could be argued that internal tensions didn’t help concentrate the previous Government’s mind fully on projecting their message to the country.

Despite the ALP Government’s success at managing the negotiation of a hung parliament for half the time they were in power, as well as leaving a number of programs that will benefit Australia for generations, they will be remembered for a largely self-inflicted loss of the media battle.

The Cone of Silence used on Get Smart was designed to be an object of fun and derision. There are already signs that the media is treating Abbott’s Cone of Silence with the same derision. Fairfax media has been ‘crowd surfing’ recently, asking people to help them find examples of ‘travel rorts’, while Abbott would have been much happier if his contribution to the current APEC conference in Indonesia was the only news.

Will Abbott eventually find the ‘sweet spot’ between Ballieu and Beattie’s media styles?

Will he ‘trust’ his Ministers to be the ‘adults’ he claims make up his Government?

What will the media do if Abbott continues the policy of non-engagement as media control? Will the reporters and editors that have been on a controlled drip feed from the LNP Opposition for the past three years make it up, look for leaks or accept the status quo as the Coalition Government ‘turns off the easy story tap’?

What do you think?


How the west was NOT won by Murdoch

Before the September election, some political pundits were predicting a Labor ‘wipeout’ in its western Sydney heartland. It did not happen.

Two Labor seats out of eight in western Sydney fell to the Liberals. Arguably, two seats, classified as southern Sydney by the Australian Electoral Commission, could be added to the list as they are part of Sydney’s central southern suburbs and border the central Labor belt (from Sydney to Penrith along the western railway line). There are reasons, however, other than the Murdoch press that these seats fell. More important are the six seats that did not fall.

The two western seats to fall were Reid and Lindsay: both border LNP seats and have areas (booths) that are predominantly Liberal voting. In Lindsay the central area around Penrith is Labor, but the northern and southern ends Liberal. In Reid, the northern half along the Parramatta River tends to be Liberal and the southern, Labor.

They are obviously seats that may move about in elections and be heavily influenced by small changes in electoral boundaries. When Reid was a Labor stronghold the seat included Labor-leaning areas to the west, towards Parramatta, but now those areas are in the Parramatta electorate and Reid includes more Liberal-leaning areas to the east, like the Drummoyne peninsula. Similarly, Lindsay’s boundaries have changed over time to include more Liberal-leaning areas in the north.

Of the two southern Sydney seats that fell, Banks has a similar profile. Barton is a little different, having some Liberal areas in the south, but is predominantly Labor – it was, however, lost by only 493 votes or 0.6% of formal votes. The retirement of the sitting member, Robert McClelland, probably had some influence on the outcome: in fact, the large swing against Labor in Barton (see table below) may also suggest an element of protest at the way McClelland was treated by his Labor colleagues during the preceding two years (demoted within the Ministry in December 2011, then dropped from the Ministry altogether in February 2012).

The swings in first preference votes in these electorates were:

Electorate Labor swing (%) Liberal swing (%) Greens swing (%)
Reid (west) -0.9 + 4.0 - 4.2
Lindsay (west) - 5.5 + 3.3 - 1.7
Barton (south) - 8.1 + 1.7 - 4.9
Banks (south) - 1.9 + 1.5 - 4.6

There is significant variation in what was happening in the electorates despite Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph being a common newspaper across these areas. But in only one electorate, Reid, did the swing against Labor result in an increased swing to the Liberals. The first preference votes went elsewhere and that is particularly marked in Barton.

Even if one argues that the Murdoch campaign was effective in reducing the Labor vote, these figures suggest that it did not have the corollary effect of convincing people to vote Liberal.

Some of those first preference votes moved to minor parties which may more reflect an attitude of ‘a pox on both your houses’.

The influence of the press is further questioned when one considers that within Reid, there was actually a swing to Labor in the five booths that make up Auburn, a core Labor area of the electorate: the swings to Labor in those booths ranged from 0.6% to 5.7%.

Does this mean that the Murdoch campaign actually convinced more Labor-leaning voters to vote Labor?

Labor was also affected by the decline in the Greens’ vote, reducing its preference flow. Whether the decline in the Greens vote was a result of the long running Murdoch campaign against them or a result of Labor campaigning strongly to distinguish itself from the Greens is debatable but, given the tenuous impact in the west of the Murdoch campaign against Labor, I lean to the latter.

And among the seats in western Sydney that did not fall, the first preference swings were:

Electorate Labor swing (%) Liberal swing (%) Greens swing (%)
Chifley + 0.7 + 1.9 - 5.8
Blaxland + 4.8 - 0.6 - 3.2
Fowler + 7.9 - 10.2 - 3.3
McMahon - 1.1 + 4.3 - 5.1
Parramatta - 3.2 + 3.6 - 2.7
Greenway + 2.2 - 1.3 - 2.3

Overall, Labor increased its first preference vote in four electorates and the Liberal vote fell in three: hardly a ringing endorsement of the effectiveness of the Murdoch campaign! Perhaps on that basis, Labor should ask him to continue the campaign and help increase its vote further next time. And Chifley, Blaxland, Fowler and even McMahon were held on first preference votes alone.

Greenway was influenced by the Liberal candidate being Jaymes Diaz: as Anthony Green said during the election night coverage, it showed that ‘candidates matter’. I suggest, not being an expert, that one quantum of the ‘candidate effect’ in Greenway could be 5.8%, the sum of overcoming the national 3.6% swing to the LNP plus the 2.2% swing to Labor that was achieved. (I would also accept 4.9%, summing the national swing and Diaz’s loss, which would then suggest that, after removing the ‘candidate effect’, there was still a 0.9% swing to Labor.)

The somewhat unusual result in Fowler suggests that the perceived quality of the local candidates was also a factor there but I have, as yet, not found any evidence to confirm this. (If somebody knows, please post a comment!)

What do the results in western Sydney tell us?

On the above figures, it seems that if the Murdoch campaign had any influence it was merely to reinforce existing leanings of particular areas within electorates, whether Liberal or Labor, or of confirmed voters’ views that neither of the major parties deserved their first preference vote. In this sense, the Murdoch campaign may have had more influence in turning voters off politics generally than in influencing votes.

I am not suggesting that the Murdoch campaign had no influence whatsoever but that the influence did not match the effort put into the campaign; nor was it as effective as Murdoch would have us believe.

Clive Palmer’s advertising blitz demonstrates the impact media campaigns can have. In his case, however, because he was starting from scratch, the campaign was as much about what advertising experts call ‘brand recognition’. What he did effectively was make his party known and provide voters an alternative to voting for the major parties, which a proportion of voters was obviously seeking to do. What he had to say mattered less than simply being known.

Murdoch himself believes he is a political force but the screaming anti-Labor headlines of his Daily Telegraph mattered little in the final analysis and appear to have had minimal influence on the vote in western Sydney.

Murdoch was basically granted political influence by the politicians, both here in Australia and in Britain, because the politicians reacted to the Murdoch commentary and polling. Instead of governing, or seeking government, by promoting policies and a vision for the future, politicians slipped into the trap of believing they will ‘live and die’ by the polls. As long as they believe that, they will allow Murdoch to continue to hold sway over them. But as my brief analysis of the vote in western Sydney indicates, the Murdoch influence is not as strong in the electorate.

While the polls generally (not just Murdoch’s polls) were relatively accurate in predicting the national voting outcome, the Government is not elected by a national trend but by winning individual seats in the House of Representatives (HoR). In 1998, for example, Labor won the national vote (51% to 49%) but insufficient seats to defeat the LNP. The published polls have not been very successful in predicting how individual electorates will behave and the figures above show the wide variations that occur between electorates.

The ability of Tony Windsor to hold New England for so many years, before his retirement at this election, and the Jaymes Diaz effect in Greenway, show that the quality of local candidates is crucial. While people know their vote will influence who becomes Prime Minister, they also know they are actually voting for a local candidate, so the quality of that candidate influences voting much more than the Murdoch press.

Strong, locally based campaigns are another effective tool to overcome broader, negative media coverage. The success of Cathy McGowan’s campaign in Indi (in Victoria) against Sophie Mirabella, is evidence of this.

I believe politicians need to ignore the Murdoch press commentary and his fortnightly polls. They are just marketing, linking his news (opinions) and his polls in a continuous marketing cycle for his media, fodder for political commentators, but next to meaningless when a voter walks into a polling station and puts pencil to paper.

What do you think?

(The above analysis used data from three major sources: the Australian Electoral Commission’s The Official 2013 Federal Election Results as at 29 September; and seat by seat guides by Anthony Green from the ABC’s 2013 Federal Election site ‘Electorates A-Z’ and William Bowe’s (aka The Poll Bludger) ‘Election Guides: The House of Representatives’.)

Truth in advertising?

Let me start off with a confession: I like French cars. So much so that I have been a regular poster on for a number of years. I could bore you silly with the differences between a 2009 and a 2012 Peugeot. But I won’t.

Like most internet forums I have seen, and heard about, there is an ‘off-topic’ area on Aussiefrogs that a certain level of membership will allow you to access. Aussiefrogs calls their off-topic thread ‘The Toad Pond’.

Someone recently posed there the question of the future of interest rates under the new Federal Government. After a number of comments from others, I made a comment that the last time the ‘official interest rate’ fell under a Coalition Government was in 2001.

The reality is that official interest rates are controlled by the Reserve Bank of Australia Board. But both sides of politics have claimed in the past (and probably will in the future) that ‘Interest rates will always be lower under a [insert party name here] Government’, while suggesting the media should call out both political parties for blatantly misleading statements.

In The Toad Pond I then pined for a return of some truth in political reporting – if not politics itself. Following my comment there came a number of good-natured ones suggesting that my request for a tad of truth in politics was an impossible dream (as well as questioning my grasp of reality).

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s website states:

The Governor and the Treasurer have agreed that the appropriate target for monetary policy in Australia is to achieve an inflation rate of 2–3 per cent, on average, over the cycle. This is a rate of inflation sufficiently low that it does not materially distort economic decisions in the community. Seeking to achieve this rate, on average, provides discipline for monetary policy decision-making, and serves as an anchor for private-sector inflation expectations.

Clearly, while the government of the day’s policy affects to some extent the monetary policy of the RBA, so does the world economy and other factors that will, in the view of the RBA Board, have a good or bad effect on the Australian economy. Effectively, ‘monetary policy’ is a tool used by the RBA to maintain inflation within the two to three per cent target band, and it changes its policy to achieve that result.

Financial institutions determine their interest rates in some shape of form using the ‘official rate’ from the RBA: products such as home loans are deemed to be newsworthy and usually track fairly closely to the current RBA determination. Business loans and instruments such as credit cards, which don’t really generate as many headlines, are not as volatile. While it might be nice for the Government’s Treasurer to stand in front of the press and suggest that he and the Government he is a member of have produced a fantastic result, in reality they had little to do with it. The recent policy of some banks to set rates independently of RBA decisions bears this out.

So I ponder:

Why are politicians allowed to claim credit for decisions they had little input into?

How is it they are able to make such misleading statements as well?

And how did they get away with the recent bout of election advertising that promised the world if we voted for whomever?

It has long been understood in Australia that there is some legislation that deals with truth in advertising. Clearly, claims that official interest rates will always be lower if a certain party is in power are incorrect because the RBA sets the ‘official interest rate’, not the government of the day.

If we look at the ACCC website, we find a number of organisations that determine if advertising is basically truthful, and that a number of these organisations publish their results.

The ACCC states that:

Honest advertising practices are not just good for business – they are required by law. The Australian Consumer Law contains a number of rules that businesses must follow when advertising and selling products and services …

A number of industry groups regulate advertising within their specific area of expertise, with assistance or oversight from the ACCC. In the case of vehicle manufacturers/importers, that industry body is the Federal Chamber of Automotive (FCAI) Industries. One of the issues FCAI monitor is the impression of ‘dangerous driving’ as reported on the Car Advice website recently when people complained about the lack of truth in a Nissan advertisement, where:

… the ad shows a man driving through the streets as his seemingly pregnant wife is in the passenger seat appearing to be in labor. When the couple arrives at a hospital, the man looks at his watch and proclaims a “personal best”, then the woman lifts her jumper to reveal a pillow playing the part of the baby bump. Reported by Mumbrella, the ASB investigated the ad following complaints that is [sic] displayed dangerous and illegal behaviour and promoted unsafe driving.

Apparently the Nissan advertisement was filmed at slow speed and ‘sped up’ using a faster frame speed and the addition of ‘suitable’ noises. There are two versions of the ad: the second was missing a number of tyre-screeching and engine revving sounds that the first advertisement contained.

In May 2012:

The Federal Government instituted an enquiry to investigate concerns that some ads promote dangerous driving. The inquiry comes in the wake of several car ads falling foul of the advertising watchdog, including an ad for Volvo V60 that this month was ruled to give an impression of ''reckless speed'' and ''unsafe driving''.

Volvo agreed to pull the ad from television after the Advertising Standards Board ruled it should be modified or withdrawn. Last month a Suzuki ad was changed after the ASB determined it promoted reckless driving.

Numerous examples of regulation are available: from protecting people from medicines that have no clinical proof of actually doing what they are claimed to do, to the colours and descriptions of foodstuffs, to claims that are unsubstantiated – such as sugar-filled cereals being ‘good for you’. While opinions may vary on the justification for regulation that can ban advertising that:

  • can be construed as dangerous driving,
  • suggests a medical benefit from taking tablets when there is no proof
  • promotes consumption of food with dubious health claims,
there is here an underlying theme: protecting society from harm.

Why isn’t the act of a political leader offering obvious falsehoods, such as ‘interest rates will always be lower’, also considered ‘illegal’ - given the regulatory theme of protecting society from harm?

Because it isn’t.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s Backgrounder on political advertising states that politicians or potential politicians can advertise whatever they like, provided they do not mislead or deceive us on how to cast a valid vote.

So, the situation is that Nissan, Volvo, Kelloggs or any other company advertising in Australia must remain within the bounds of truth, or someone will complain to the appropriate advertising standards agency. But if you are a politician, the content of your advertising is not regulated, provided you don’t suggest to people they ‘vote early and vote often’ or imply they don’t vote (because ‘it only encourages them’). Even worse, the politicians voted on this law, with an obvious double standard entrenched in its legislation.

Our politicians can tell us that they will ‘stop the boats’, ‘rectify a budget emergency’ (which has suddenly disappeared since 13 September) or anything else they like without any fear of exposure, legal consequences or, sadly, examination by a complacent media.

Why is it that society needs to be protected from ‘perceptions of dangerous driving’ when most drivers are well aware of the implications of the act while society is deemed to be quite able to determine the accuracy of arcane claims by politicians, such as ‘interest rates will always be lower’, without any requirement that the claim has any fact to it at all?

What is the real problem here:

  • that the Electoral Act doesn’t regulate the content of political advertising, or
  • that society, as demonstrated by a number of people in ‘The Toad Pond’, understands, accepts and is comfortable with the suggestion that politicians cannot be believed?
I’m not sure. The people are not ‘storming the barricades’ to eliminate such an obvious double standard.

What do you think?

The Political Sword is under new management

Two weeks ago TPS’s marvellous political blogger, Ad Astra, wrote Where to from here for The Political Sword?. The wise and compassionate and oh so politically astute Ad Astra advised it was time for him to retire. He also advised that the incredible Lyn, of Lyn’s Links on The Political Sword was retiring.

Oh no!

Was The Political Sword all over?!!

Well, it seems not.

Those of us who have loved, and found enormous solace and advice and companionship and a sense of family and support at TPS, thought ‘no!’ We need TPS. We need the Sword, even more than before the 2013 election. We need the Swordsters. We are not ready to let go!

So, a group, team, collective, board (finding a term to describe us is quite a challenge!) of some 10 Swordsters (regular readers and commenters) have formed the ‘TPS Team’ (with Ad and Lyn’s wonderful mentoring).

The brand new TPS Team is organising, behind the scenes, to continue TPS.

The Political Sword is moving from essentially a single-writer blog to one which can flourish as a forum for many writers.

Within a couple of days the team will post the first piece submitted as a conversation-starter from a writer.

We hope this is just the first of many offerings from many different voices.

Are you someone who believes that progressive political voices need to be heard?

Would you like to submit a piece, essentially from a progressive perspective, for consideration?

You are enthusiastically invited to do so!

But first, read through our brief guidelines for submitting an article. Then do be in touch with the TPS Team .

When Ad Astra wrote his final, and farewell piece, he thanked a great many people, including his loyal readers. There is one person remaining, however, who missed out on being thanked because … well, that’s Ad Astra, himself.

Ad, this is just for you.

And all your grateful readers are singing along.

Ad Astra, we applaud you. Thank you.

Where to from here for The Political Sword?

There are pivotal points in the lives of all of us, no less in the life of a political blog. The Political Sword has reached such a pivotal point.

Last Friday The Political Sword had its fifth birthday. The previous Saturday, Labor lost government. Among many who blog here, that was a great disappointment. The long road back to government for Labor lies ahead. They were pivotal points.

Moreover, key players in the life of this blog seek to take a different direction. Last week, Lyn, whose links have attracted thousands of regular visitors every day, decided to take a break. She has now decided to retire permanently from this very time-consuming and onerous task. For my part, I wish also to take a permanent break.

The Political Sword has been sustained over the years by the loyalty and contributions of a growing number of commenters, now over four hundred, and the visits of thousands of ‘lurkers’ who never comment but who visit regularly, thereby keeping the traffic through the site running at a consistently high level. They come to read Lyn’s Daily Links, the weekly pieces I write, the occasional guest authors’ offerings, and the many, many well-informed comments that run into the hundreds for every piece.

The constancy of the contribution of daily links, and of writing weekly pieces that often run to three thousand words with numerous references and links, has taken its toll on Lyn and me. We have spouses and families, and many other things we would like to do. Our commitment to The Political Sword has made other commitments and other pursuits almost impossible. We have done our bit to promote and support the values that progressives hold, but it’s time for a change. More of that later.

Some background may be of interest to those of you who have not been with us from the beginning.

During the final six years of my medical career I was editor of an Internet site that provided medical information to a worldwide audience of family doctors. That experience gave me insight into how such sites work, and the elements of HTML programming. In the year I retired from that, Kevin Rudd became Opposition Leader and the hope of Labor replacing the Howard Government became a reality. Being a Labor supporter, this excited my interest, and heightened my desire to write on matters political.

Even as far back as 2007 it was so obvious that journalists in the Fourth Estate were afflicted by groupthink, that this was the subject of my first blog piece: Is the media in Australia suffering from groupthink?. Having nowhere to publish it, I sent it to Possum Comitatus seeking advice as to how I might have it published. He kindly offered to post it as the first piece on his blogsite Possum Box, which he did on 14 June 2008. I will always be grateful to Possum for giving me a start in the Fifth Estate.

I was encouraged when the piece attracted over thirty comments, one of which was from janice, whom you all know is still a regular contributor to TPS. Subsequently, Possum published another three of my pieces, on Kevin Rudd and the media, on an emissions trading scheme, and on adversarial politics.

By then I was thinking that it would be appealing to have my own blogsite. My son-in-law, Web Monkey, set me up with this off-the-shelf freebie, BlogEngine.NET, which has served us very well since it began on 13 September 2008. He has maintained it ever since, updated it as each version arrived, transferred it to ‘the cloud’ (in Singapore), and developed TPS M@IL, a program that allows users to email politicians and disseminate pieces to selected parliamentarians. His contribution has been magnificent, for which I am deeply grateful.

The first post was an introduction to The Political Sword, and on the next day, 14 September, I posted In search of the political Holy Grail – the Rudd Government narrative, something that is still a mystery to many Fourth Estate journalists.

Since that modest beginning, which attracted just three comments (one was from janice) and almost no traffic, it has expanded to a busy site where each piece attracts from two to six hundred comments, and high ratings. Our stats show us that there are hundreds of regular commenters, and thousands of visitors who choose not to comment. The cumulative total of original pieces is 469, close to a million words; there have been over 61,000 comments; and over 2,000 raters.

In 2009 along came Lyn, at first commenting, then adding some links to her comments, then posting more and more links and posting them more often, until they morphed into her regular ‘Today’s Links’, archived regularly in Lyn’s Daily Links, and then, as they expanded, into Lyn’s Daily Links Archive, which dates back to early February 2011. It now contains many thousands of links of great historic interest. One look through the Archive demonstrates Lyn’s extraordinary and brilliant contribution to The Political Sword over the years, a contribution acknowledged over and again by those who comment here.

Lyn’s Daly Links Archive is invaluable. It will remain as a permanent monument to Lyn.

There have been other contributors of pieces on The Political Sword. Bushfire Bill, Hillbilly (Feral) Skeleton and Acerbic Conehead, who together contributed hundreds of pieces, John L, then, more recently, Victoria Rollison, Kaye Rollison, Marian Dalton and Jan Mahyuddin @j4gypsy. There have been poets too who have added verse to enrich the site with colour and movement: Talk Turkey, Patriciawa and Truth Seeker. They have all added immensely to the quality, reach and appeal of The Political Sword, for which I am hugely grateful, as are all the visitors here.

So here we are: Lyn has retired, and will concentrate on her family, her crafts and her hobbies; and I wish to give attention to family matters, complete the writing of my life story, do some more motoring across our vast land, which we enjoy, and taking some shipboard tours. To do this we both must take a new direction.

What then becomes of The Political Sword? It has become the home for many kindred souls, mainly Labor advocates, who enjoy the links, the pieces that are posted, and the discourse here among the participants. It has indeed become The Political Sword family. I have welcomed each new commenter, and have sought to respond to the comments as often as I was able. Insightful comments deserve a response, although responding is time-consuming and at times a demanding process.

It would be a great pity for The Political Sword to simply close down. Already some have expressed the hope that it will continue the fight for Labor values, oppose contrary values the new Government may seek to impose, and work towards the restoration of a Labor Government whose purpose is to ensure fairness and equity across the nation, to ensure prosperity for all, and to ensure infrastructure and services are in place to serve our economy, to serve our ageing population, and to care for all those in need of help.

The Political Sword needs to find a new home, where it will be fostered, supported, and expanded by a devoted and dedicated blog manager and enthusiastic writers, where it can promulgate its values and remain a resonant voice in the Fifth Estate, in which it has established a solid reputation and has garnered the respect of other sites, who include it on their blogrolls.

It has been suggested that others may wish to contribute pieces, which would certainly take the load from my shoulders. Anyone willing to do so would be welcome. My preference though is that someone, perhaps who has experience in managing a political blogsite, take over management of The Political Sword, write for it, and act as an editor of pieces submitted by others. It has a guaranteed audience, and an intelligent, well informed and articulate following, who habitually comment on the theme of each new piece, but who also pick up on what is happening in the political world and offer links to a wide variety of sources.

For some time now Janet has provided additional links and Twitterverse, and now Casablanca has taken up where Lyn left off to provide comprehensive collections of links. If they were willing to continue in this vein, the superb and unique link facility that Lyn established would continue to bring countless thousands to The Political Sword for information and succour.

Folks, this is an opportunity for you to offer your suggestions about how The Political Sword might continue, and indeed go from strength to strength. With the Coalition Government in place and already showing stark signs of its intent to tear down much of what Labor has built, signs that it will institute its own brand of neoliberal politics where trickle down economics are the norm, where the strong prevail and the weak falter and are left behind, the need for The Political Sword, and sites like it, is even more urgent.

Please post your suggestions and comments here, and if you wish to contact me directly with proposals or ideas, use the ‘Contact’ item on the top menu.

I will not respond immediately to posted comments, as I would prefer to see them in aggregate before doing so, but of course I will respond promptly to email messages.

Finally, on your behalf, I want to extend to you Lyn, our dear Lyn, the heartfelt thanks of all of us for your many years of dedicated and devoted work to The Political Sword in bringing us the world of political comment day after day, summarized to make it easy for us to assimilate, linked and referenced brilliantly. May your retirement a very happy one, and all you wish it to be.

To all who visit here, what do you think?

And the winner is: Rupert Murdoch

In a fair contest, Kevin Rudd and the Labor team would have been more than a match for Tony Abbott and the Coalition team. But it was not a fair contest. From the very beginning of the election campaign Rupert Murdoch marshalled his formidable forces in support of Abbott while he waged a barefaced propaganda war against Rudd and Labor. When before have we witnessed such an onslaught?

Conscripted by Murdoch from his position of editor-in-chief of The New York Post, ‘Field Marshall’ Col Allan, known inside News Corporation as ‘Col Pot’, a reference to Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge genocidal dictator, was instructed by Murdoch to "go hard on Rudd, start from Sunday, and don't back off".

Allan soon got to work. His message to Murdoch’s editors was straightforward but brutal: “You have been going hard on Labor but now, with Rudd's revival in the opinion polls, you have to go harder.” Indeed, they had been ‘going hard’ with vicious front pages since July: Captain Chaos, Wreck it Rudd, Hellhole Solution and Rudd’s Boat Show (referring to the PNG arrangement), Kev’s $733 million Bank Heist, Price of Labor, It’s a Ruddy Mess and Rudd’s Carr Wreck, when the Budget revision was released, and Island Hell referring to Manus Island.

The attack heightened with The Daily Telegraph’s: Finally, you now have the chance to…KICK THIS MOB OUT on Monday 5 August.

As Bruce Guthrie, who had a successful legal run in with Murdoch, so well recorded in his book Man Bites Murdoch, writes in his Brisbane Times article It's on: Rudd gets the Col shoulder as Murdoch telegraphs his punches: “By Thursday he and the Telegraph editor, Paul 'Boris' Whittaker, had taken another shot at Rudd, casting him, Anthony Albanese and Craig Thomson as ''Thommo's Heroes'', playing on the late 1960s sitcom Hogan's Heroes. By Friday, it was the turn of The Courier-Mail, the Brisbane tabloid turning Rudd and star candidate Peter Beattie into circus clowns.” Guthrie questioned Rudd’s wisdom in ‘taking on’ Murdoch: “What can he expect? First off, News does not play fair. And it's not always troubled by the truth. The PM will be misquoted and misrepresented, photographed - or Photoshopped - any notion of balance abandoned.

“My case
[his Supreme Court case against Murdoch for wrongful dismissal] taught me there are two kinds of truth in this world: what happened and what News Ltd says happened. And in Murdoch's world his version trumps everything - given his clout and reach in this country, that can be a scary realisation. Rudd should also know he is not only taking on the Telegraph - he's taking on the entire Murdoch empire.”

Referring to Rudd’s strong reaction to Murdoch’s mauling of him, Guthrie concluded: “I hope for his sake he has thought it through. Because he's about to get a working-over he'll long remember. I managed to hold on to my house; I'm not sure he'll hang on to The Lodge.”

Not satisfied that his readers had got his message, Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph shouted Australia needs Tony, with the Abbott face filling the front page. Yesterday, it was YOUR TURN under a smirking Abbott with a wistful Rudd looking on.

Murdoch’s power is profound. A Get Up ad that criticized the anti-Labor coverage of Murdoch's newspapers was banned on commercial TV for fear of upsetting him. Channels Seven and Ten refused to air the ad, while Nine screened it over four days in Brisbane – then cancelled it after blaming a "coding error".

The Murdoch threat to Labor is not new. Over a year ago I wrote: Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott in 2013. But how does she neutralize Rupert Murdoch?

When in April 2012 Murdoch tweeted: @rupertmurdoch 
Dramatic, slimy events in Australian politics. Country desperately needs election to get fresh start, 
28 Apr 12, no room for doubt remained – Murdoch wanted an election and expected that it would be the end of Julia Gillard and her Government.

The piece argued that while PM Gillard needed to defeat Tony Abbott and the Coalition at the next election, that was not her most forbidding task. Her most powerful enemy was Rupert Murdoch. It was he who needed to be countered for electoral success: “Our PM has two virulent enemies, and an unequal battle with them.”

The piece went on to document how Julia Gillard was superior to Tony Abbott on every parameter, but that might count for naught against Murdoch’s forces. It concluded: “We have all known about the influence he exerts via his 70% ownership of metropolitan newspapers, and through his TV outlets here in Australia, and in recent months we have seen his pernicious influence on politics in the UK and the depths to which he will stoop for a salacious story. I expect we might see something similar in the US.

“Rupert Murdoch has always sought to influence politics in every country where his vast empire has its tentacles. He has now stated overtly what we all knew, that he wants PM Gillard and her Government out and Tony Abbott and the Coalition in, and will use all his massive media power to achieve that end. He will not ease back, he will not take the pressure off, he will, through his media, one overseen by sycophantic hirelings, wage relentless war on our PM and her Government. It is to the mainstream media’s eternal shame that so many of the others have followed the Murdoch lead.

“Julia Gillard would trounce Tony Abbott were the election to be based on competence, performance and behaviour, and an accurately informed electorate. But we know that the Murdoch factor will ensure that not only is the electorate not informed about the Government’s achievements and its plans, but that it will be deliberately misinformed through distortions, omissions, and at times downright lies.

“Julia Gillard can defeat Tony Abbott, but can she counter the Murdoch menace?”

This piece, written over a year ago, was prescient. What was predicted then has unfolded before our very eyes over the last six months. Murdoch has won the election for Abbott.

The Sun's contribution to the unexpected Conservative victory in the 1992 general election in the UK evoked a Murdochesque front page headline: "It's The Sun Wot Won It", reflecting the influence of the Murdoch press over politicians and election results, something Murdoch relishes. We may see similar sentiments expressed here, although Murdoch conceded to the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandal, that the headline was "tasteless and wrong".

No matter how tasteless, Rudd and Labor will be exhibited as a scalp on Murdoch’s well-endowed belt.

Of course, it would be unreasonable to suggest that Murdoch alone was responsible for Labor’s defeat. Abbott himself would want to take much of the credit, and his minders and supporters inside the Coalition and in the sycophantic media would want to take their share. They insist that Abbott has succeeded brilliantly by mesmerizing the electorate for so long with his simplistic, monotonously repeated three word slogans, by continually demonizing Labor and the PM, by being consistently ‘on message’, and by being supremely ‘disciplined’ (how the media loves that term), which is code for not disastrously putting his foot in his mouth. To the Murdoch media, all Abbott had to do was not stuff up and stay on message, and it would act as his megaphone. It mattered little that Abbott never acknowledged the global fiscal situation, nor detailed how the economy would need to adjust to the new reality of a slowing resource sector, nor how he planned to manage the transition to a different economy. His success was measured only by how well he avoided missteps.

Moreover, it would be foolish for Labor supporters to ignore the contribution Labor and its leaders have made to their defeat. Mistakes have been made, errors of judgement have occurred, some policies and plans have been faulty, some strategic moves inadvisable. Like all political parties managing a vast nation through turbulent global times, Labor has found judgement difficult. Hippocrates’ famous aphorism about the practice of medicine applies equally to politics: Life is short, the art is long, the occasion fleeting, experience fallacious, and judgment difficult.

Some Labor ideas quickly evaporated: the community forum for achieving consensus about global warming, and the East Timor ‘solution’ for offshore processing. Some well thought through moves such as the ETS were frustrated by Coalition and Greens’ opposition, but eventually it was Rudd’s timidity about calling a double dissolution election on an ETS that resulted in its suspension. The Malaysian arrangement never got to be tried because of a High Court ruling, and several sound measures were blocked by the Greens and the Coalition.

But for every unsuccessful move there were many more that were spectacularly successful: the stimulus response to the GFC that saved the nation from recession, contained unemployment and kept small businesses afloat; the Building the Education Revolution that had a 97% success rate, which provided much needed school infrastructure; and the Home Insulation Program that insulated a million roofs, reduced power costs to households, and lessened power usage and pollution, are three significant examples. Yet there was trenchant criticism of all three, from Abbott and the Coalition of course, but promulgated widely by the mainstream media, particularly the Murdoch media. Tame economists such as Henry Ergas and Michael Stutchbury demeaned the stimulus package up hill and down dale. Murdoch columnists, especially in The Australian, ran a weekly column attacking the BER, headlining every small problem in what was a highly successful program, as demonstrated in three reports by businessman Brad Orgill. The same happened with the HIP. Although there were administrative problems that allowed some shonky operators to enter the industry, what the Murdoch media highlighted was the ceiling fires, actually fewer than before the HIP began, and the sad deaths of four young workers, all shown to be the result of OH&S shortcomings occasioned by careless contractors.

The result was that by design, through Murdoch’s media, these successful programs were demonized and deprecated to such an extent that even now the mere mention of the BER immediately evokes the words ‘waste and mismanagement’, and mention of the HIP brings forth talk of ‘pink batts’, which is code for bungling inefficiency, carelessness, ceiling fires and deaths. Thus two highly successful programs that brought great benefit to our nation have been given a big black mark that has so negated all their benefits that virtually no credit has accrued to the Government. And all this has been the direct result of deliberately disingenuous and deceitful Coalition propaganda, amplified by the Murdoch media.

Murdoch’s campaign to unseat the Labor Government started long ago. He has been at it for years. His latest foray, spectacularly vicious though it is, is but the finale to a long-standing and persistent strategy of demonization and denigration.

Moreover, the spectacular achievements of the Gillard Government, such as the NDIS, the Better Schools Plan (Gonski), and the rollout of the largest infrastructure project in our history, the NBN, quite deliberately have received paltry recognition and credit from the Murdoch press. When it was not criticizing, it simply ignored and effectively hid these accomplishments.

Murdoch has supported the Abbott notion that we need to return to the halcyon days of the Howard era. Abbott gazes longingly in the rear-view mirror at a golden age of rivers of gold flowing into the Treasury, tax cuts and middle class welfare, and Murdoch stands beside him.

Of course, there is no gainsaying the damaging effects that the change of leader from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard in 2010, the prolonged sabotage of her prime ministership by Rudd and what Kerry-Anne Walsh terms ‘Team Rudd’, and the change back to him in 2013. Labor ministers readily conceded this last night and again this morning. Had there not been this destructive behaviour, Labor would have been miles ahead, and not struggling to maintain momentum and electoral support, as has been the case for the last three years. It has had to function with the brakes on, looking continually in the rear view mirror to watch for threats to its continued existence as a coherent political party. The damage that Team Rudd has done is inestimable, and in the light of the election results, spectacularly unjustifiable. Whether Julia Gillard and her ministers would have done any better than has Kevin Rudd we shall never know, but many will express learned opinions one way or the other, even if inauthentic, even if worthless.

We now enter into a dark and uncertain place. Murdoch will be certain to get what he wants from Abbott, who will be keen to repay him for his powerful and unremitting support. 'Murdochracy' will blossom. Obsequious Abbott will pay homage to him, and to Gina Rinehart and George Pell, who will continue to be his sponsors, but only so long as he does their bidding, as weaklings do.

Even before the election, Abbott was threatening his opponents, threatening a double dissolution election if they obstructed his carbon tax repeal. He insisted he would not tolerate opposition, although he had offered nothing but opposition and obstruction for the last three years. He reacted angrily to the Greens and Labor ministers insisting they would stick to their policy positions. He insisted that he would have a mandate to do as he pleased and that Labor would be acting suicidally to resist him. His bullyboy nature protruded through the thin veneer of reasonableness with which he has covered himself throughout the election campaign. This is a foretaste of what is to come. Be very afraid, the ugliness of the Abbott persona will soon be exposed for all to see.

And as this ugliness and the nastiness emerges like an erupting volcano, Abbott will take comfort in Murdoch’s protection, which he knows will always be there so long as he complies with Murdoch’s wishes. Abbott’s moves will be given sympathetic publicity in Murdoch’s outlets. He will be given a long, long honeymoon. Now that he has chosen a winner, Murdoch will make sure he protects his own reputation as a kingmaker. Moreover, he will always do what his commercial interests dictate – they always take precedent over his ideological position. In the case of Abbott and Murdoch, ideologies coincide. Murdoch will want Abbott, whose conservative pose he applauds, to look after his commercial wellbeing by protecting his Foxtel empire from any adverse effects of the NBN. In Murdoch's vicious attacks on Rudd: it's business, Paul Sheehan assesses this hazard as follows: “Foxtel has responded to this threat by launching its own content-on-demand product, FoxtelGo, and is launching an online-only version, FoxtelPlay. Foxtel's co-parent, News Corp, is engaging in a more structural response. It wants to kill the NBN threat at its ultimate source - Kevin Rudd.”

In his piece in Public Opinion, David Rowe quotes Barry Jones, who insists that the quality of political debate has become increasingly unsophisticated, appealing to the lowest common denominator of understanding. On the role of the media, Jones says: The Murdoch papers are no longer reporting the news, but shaping it. They no longer claim objectivity but have become players, powerful advocates on policy issues: hostile to the science of climate change, harsh on refugees, indifferent to the environment, protective of the mining industry, trashing the record of the 43rd parliament, and promoting a dichotomy of uncritical praise and contemptuous loathing. Does it affect outcomes? I am sure that it does, and obviously advertisers think so. The Coalition is still playing to fear and anxiety with its rhetoric about the Australian economy being a smoking ruin due to Labor’s ‘irresponsible’ fiscal policies.”

Writing in similar vein in Are You Scared Yet? The Mugging Of The Australian Electorate in The Global Mail, Mike Seccombe gives a fascinating account of the difference between progressive and conservative brains and thinking, that will repay the reader’s attention. He uses ‘mugged’ in the sense of being ‘robbed’. He writes: “Conservatives, for example, tend to have a stronger ‘startle reflex’ in response to sudden loud noise, than [progressives] do. They exhibit stronger sympathetic-nervous-system reactions to what they perceive as threatening images. They are more inclined to feel disgust and are generally more fearful.” Referring to the 2013 federal election, Seccombe asserts: “Tony Abbott, his political allies and media claque have managed to convince a significant portion of the electorate that it has been mugged. They have done this not over a few weeks in an election campaign, but over a period of years, and in defiance of the objective evidence. What’s more they have done it, in many ways, with the complicity of the Labor government, which has shown itself to be rather worse at running the debate than at running the country.”

Barrie Cassidy plays down the Murdoch effect: “The Daily Telegraph is trying to influence people who are already savvy and interested enough to buy a newspaper in a declining market. They don't fit the lemming mentality, by and large. So newspaper campaigns are limited in impact. The six o'clock news is still more influential, and the social media gets bigger by the day.” Some would wish Cassidy’s view to be correct, but most would see it as a future prediction rather that a contemporary reality. Murdoch has already done his damage for the 2013 election, damage that is now all too clear.

Victoria Rollison though has no doubts. In An Open Letter to Journalists at News Ltd she concludes: “It’s also important for you to know that we won’t forget what you’ve done. If your boss gets his way, and you do manage to deliver Australia the most conservative, austerity obsessed, downright mean and selfish government we’ve ever had, it’s very likely most of your readers, especially those in areas like western Sydney who’ve you’ve conned most successfully, will not be very impressed with you.”

Let’s give the last word on the Murdoch effect to Mike Carlton. In his article: Lies, damned lies and Australia's future in yesterday’s SMH, Carlton refers to the appearance of Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett on the ABC's Lateline on Tuesday. Carlton writes: "Here was a media mogul and Reserve Bank board member wickedly interfering in the election", and goes on to quote him: “…to be as strongly biased as News have been in the last few months, I do think does a great damage to the credibility of press, at just the time when the press needs to be highly respected as we go through this digital transition".

Carlton comments: “You betcha. It matters not that the opinion pages of The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and Brisbane's Courier-Mail are a bottomless swamp of right-wing idiocy. So be it. Rupert Murdoch and his myrmidons are entitled to their own opinions. But they are not entitled to their own facts. When you prostitute your news columns with cant, slant and bias, as News has done so relentlessly, it is a betrayal of your readers and a trampling of every ethical principle of journalism.

“This is not surprising from the global octopus that so disgraced itself in Britain, but it is a tragedy for Australia.”

While some will dispute the Murdoch effect on this election outcome, insisting that Abbott did it, or the Coalition did it, or Labor did it to itself, in my opinion the most credible explanation of the Coalition victory is that Murdoch did it. Abbott could not have succeeded on his own merits. He needed Murdoch to do it for him.

Although he might not want to say so in public, in private Murdoch will be saying to himself: ‘It's The Telegraph Wot Won It’. I believe that’s right.

So the winner is: Rupert Murdoch.

What do you think?

Say yes, yes, yes to Labor

Rusted-on Labor, Coalition and Greens supporters will vote as they always do. So this piece is directed towards the ‘undecideds’.

In this week’s Essential Research Poll they amounted to 18% who said: “It is quite possible I will change my mind as the campaign develops”, with another 4% responding: “Don’t know”. Since just 47% of those polled responded: “I will definitely not change my mind”, and another 30%: “It is very unlikely I will change my mind”, only three quarters of those polled have locked in, or almost locked in, their voting intention. With nearly a quarter not so committed, the election really depends on them. Coupled with Essential’s TPP of 50/50, there is plenty of scope for the election to go either way, depending on how the non-committed 22% vote.

Before reflecting on which party and which leader is best equipped to guide the nation through the next three years, a number of myths need to be exploded. These myths have been perpetuated over the last three years to such an extent that they have become virtual folklore, some of it ‘verified’ by opinion polls, where, for example, despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary, those polled consistently rate the Coalition as the best managers of the economy.

So let’s examine some of these myths, myths that need to be erased if the undecideds are to have a balanced view of the options.

MYTH: The Coalition is the best manager of the economy
This is what Stephen Koukoulas wrote in The Drum at the end of last year: “The Liberal Party and many conservative commentators suggest that the size of government in Australia under the current Labor Government is too big. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said the current government "is addicted to taxes" and that it "is spending like a drunken sailor… mortgaging our future". In a similar vein, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey says: "Labor has shown it is incapable of cutting spending”. Either these comments are deliberate mistruths or reflect the lack of understanding of budget policy from people who, within a year, could well be prime minister and treasurer.

“The facts of the budget show that the current government's budgetary footprint on the economy is small, running at the lowest level in 35 years. The current small government is made up of both low tax receipts and record cuts in government spending.”

The Kouk concludes: “In what should be an embarrassing fact for Mr Hockey, 2012-13 will see real government spending fall 4.4 per cent, the biggest cut ever recorded. This cut will see the government spending to GDP ratio fall to 23.8 per cent, having previously been ramped up to successfully counter the shock from the global financial crisis. This level of spending is 0.4 per cent of GDP below the average government spending level of the Howard government. In today's dollar terms, the 0.4 per cent of GDP amounts to around $6 billion.

“All of this suggests that the current government and the Labor Party more generally are low taxing and the only side of politics willing to cut spending when required.”

Add to that assessment the fact that during the first mining boom when there was rivers of gold flowing into the Treasury, instead of saving this ‘for a rainy day’, John Howard and Peter Costello chose to reduce tax and give overly generous middle class welfare handouts, all to attract votes, thereby creating a now unsustainable structural deficit in the budget that will bedevil governments and treasurers until they have the courage to tell the people that the age of such entitlements is over, are increasingly unaffordable, and need to be discontinued. Joe Hockey knows this, but his leader won’t have a bar of it, as it would lose him votes. The Howard government also neglected infrastructure, creating a structural deficit that will consume many billions in the years ahead.

The evidence points decisively to the incontrovertible fact that during the Howard/Costello years the Coalition was not the great economic manager it is pumped up to have been, and that Labor has been a superior manager of the economy, so much so that it has a triple A rating from all three rating agencies for the first time in its history, is regarded as the best managed economy in the developed world, remains the envy of other countries, and attracts the admiration of economists world wide.

The continual denigration of Labor and its financial management, and the persistent talking down of the economy by the Coalition and sycophantic journalists, has led voters to really believe the myth that Labor is a poor economic manager, and the Coalition is better. Yet myth is it. Erase it from memory. Indeed, economic management is one of Labor’s very strong points.

MYTH: Labor did not save Australia from the global financial crisis
The Coalition, its finance spokesmen, and Coalition-oriented journalists insist that it was the sound state of the economy gifted to Labor by the Howard/Costello Government, the burgeoning Chinese economy, the minerals boom, and RBA monetary policy that saved us from the GFC. Some scarcely acknowledge that there was a GFC at all. “What crisis?” said Joe Hockey. They still refuse to accept the continuing and devastating fallout from the GFC all across the globe.

This is the assessment of Politifact. Richard Holden writes: “So, was the Rudd Government brilliant, lucky, or reckless?

“My reading is: brilliant. For sure, they had a lot of other factors supporting the economy that many other countries did not have: a central bank with the decisiveness, and room, to slash interest rates; a major trading partner (i.e. China) enacting a massive stimulus of their own; and a very flexible exchange rate. They also arguably "played it safe" by following advice from Treasury and the International Monetary Fund.

“But two things merit the term "brilliant". One: the resolve to use overwhelming fiscal force, particularly in the face of political opposition; and two: the sophistication to understand the importance of shoring-up the banking system through deposit guarantees (announced in October, 2008).

“Together these gave Australians confidence that we would weather the crisis. That confidence prevented the kind of expectations death spiral from which the US is still battling to recover.

“Franklin Roosevelt was right. In times like 2008 "the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself". Oh, and a government that doesn’t realize that stimulus only works if it’s big, bold and credible.”

Labor did save us from the dire affects of the GFC. To say otherwise is a myth, one to be discarded.

MYTH: The cost of living has risen out of control under Labor
This is Stephen Koukoulas’ assessment of this myth: “To summarise, the average household is taking home $17,250 a year more in after tax income than in late 2007, paying $6,100 a year less in mortgage repayments and their cost of living has risen by $9,240. Netting this out means a gain of over $14,000 a year. For this average household and frankly millions like them, the cost of living issue is a complete furphy, a lie and a distortion that sounds appealing but is baseless in fact.

“It is odd that so few many people realise or care to acknowledge just how well off they are.”

Read too what Tom Allard has to say in Life is much better under Labor after all, says study.

Another myth exploded. Forget it.

MYTH: There has been a wage blowout under Labor
Writing in The Guardian, Greg Jericho says: “…two weeks’ ago the latest Wage Price Index was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics; it showed that the annual increase in wages is a mere 3% – the lowest such increase, outside the period of the global financial crisis, for the past 10 years.” Later he writes: “After the GFC, and the introduction of the Fair Work Act, real wages recovered to the pre-GFC average growth of about 1%. But…they have now fallen to 0.4% annual growth.”

Later, referring to the assessment of the RBA, Jericho writes: “…it noted, “Unit labour costs ... declined over the year, with the sharp slowing in the growth of average earnings more than offsetting an easing in labour productivity growth from its recent fast pace.”

Another myth debunked. It is nothing more than a furphy perpetuated by Coalition IR spokesman Eric Abetz to support his push for Abbott’s changes to Fair Work Australia to ‘return IR to the sensible centre’.

MYTH: Cutting corporate taxes will boost real wage growth
The Coalition’s ‘Our Plan’ states: “By cutting corporate taxes we…boost real wage growth”. This was subject to examination by The Australian Institute’s Facts Fight Back. The finding: There is serious doubt that the academic and theoretical work underpinning the claim is valid in the Australian context and the available evidence does not support the claim.

Another myth down the drain. Ignore it.

MYTH: Labor has done nothing for small and medium business enteprises
This myth is common among business lobbies. Let’s read what Rob Burgess says in Business Spectator in Labor's SME 'failure' is a myth: “It’s been worrying…to see people who should know better asserting that Labor has done absolutely nothing for small business, unlike the angelic Coalition governments of John Howard. That’s a staggering position to take given that the Abbott-led Coalition voted for round one of the $10.8 billion Rudd stimulus package in 2008 – a cash splash and infrastructure splurge that kept retailers, sub-contractors and many other SME sectors alive as the first wave of GFC pain hit the nation. The Coalition did not vote for the second round of stimulus in 2009. But that $42 billion adrenalin shot to the economy, besides $950 cheques to most households, included ‘hardship bonuses’ of $950 to 21,000 farmers and farm-dependent small businesses, and $2.7 billion in additional investment tax breaks for SMEs.

“Small businesses were also the main beneficiaries of the ‘school halls’ and ‘pink batts’ schemes. Both have been attacked as administrative stuff-ups… The overspend on school halls became the main criticism of that scheme. Some cost a lot more than market value, but overall the final cost blowout was about 14 per cent.

“The logic of slamming that as one of the biggest wastes of government money ever is utterly insupportable… It prevented the financial collapse of thousands of small businesses and individual contractors and that was its primary purpose…”

Burgess concludes: “…failing to recognise the good Labor did in the SME space in the past six years is partisan revisionism that really helps no one.”

So it’s a myth that Labor has done nothing for SMEs. Indeed, some of the existing benefits are those the Coalition is now threatening to remove: instant asset tax write-offs and loss carry-backs.

MYTH: Labor’s NBN will cost over $90 billion
Peter Martin quotes PolitiFact that finds Turnbull's claim that Labor's NBN would eventually cost $94 billion possible but unverifiable. It rates it "half true".

Turnbull continually quotes the $94 billion figure and compares it with his estimated cost of his NBN-Lite. The estimated cost of Labor’s NBN was $37.4 billion, (but it may blow out to $44.1 billion,) but that is not a bottom line figure in the Federal Budget. It is an investment that will achieve an estimated 7% ROI when fully deployed. It is fiscally inept to treat it as an expense. The only ongoing expense to the budget is interest on money borrowed to fund the NBN rollout. Turnbull knows this very well, but still perpetuates his myths about the NBN.

It is a unverifiable myth that Labor’s NBN will cost $94 billion, three times as much as the Coalition’s NBN-Lite.

MYTH: The Coalition’s NBN will be cheaper, roll out sooner and be more affordable
Malcolm Turnbull states the cost of his NBN-Lite FTTN will be $29.5 billion. In response, Stevej on NBN quotes Professor Reg Coutts, a member of a seven member Expert Panel: “Essentially to go down the FTTN road would mean something in the order of greater than 50 per cent of the capital being put into digital cabinets in the suburbs…They then become an obstacle to the final solution… fibre-to-the-premise. Fibre-to-the-node is not a stepping stone to fibre-to-the-premise.” Stevej goes on: “…what was a really bad, uneconomic idea in January 2009 is now a worse idea.” He concludes: “If Turnbull wins office, we're going to hear a lot about Labor’s "costs", "waste" and "poor economic management". We won't hear the truth from him that he's planned to land the Australian taxpayer with a $30 billion write-off, courtesy of his ill-advised and wasteful FTTN.” This weekend in Despite News Ltd, Turnbull WILL kill NBN, if he wants Stevej says: “If Turnbull was really committed to building an NBN, why has he crafted a "plan" that is so complex and so riddled with omissions that the Parliamentary Budget Office cannot cost it?...Turnbull is either incompetent, which I don't believe, or working very hard to hide some very unpalatable facts."

In this weekend’s The Conversation Rod Tucker writes: “Will the Coalition’s NBN provide value for money? Compared with Labor’s FTTP NBN, which will be easily upgradeable to ultra-broadband capacity when new applications come on line, the Coalition’s FTTN NBN is a short-term, limited-bandwidth solution. At a whopping two-thirds of the cost of the vastly superior FTTP NBN, the Coalition’s NBN stacks up as waste of money.”

Forget the myth that the Coalition’s NBN-Lite FTTN is a cheaper and better option than Labor’s NBN FTTP. It isn’t, and Turnbull knows it.

The myths listed above are related to the economy and the NBN, but to illustrate that they extend beyond these areas, try this one:

MYTH: Immunization rates have fallen under Labor
The ABC’s Fact Check says this: “Given the overall vaccination rates across all three age groups over the period of the Labor governments has either remained stable or increased, Mr Abbott's claim that "this Government (has) presided over a reduction in vaccination rates" is wrong.

Another myth exploded.

There are many, many more, but to include them all would take the whole piece. I trust there are sufficient though to convince undecided voters that to make a considered choice of which party to support, these myths need to be discarded, and the mind cleansed of their pernicious influence. Indeed, in exploding these myths, Labor’s strengths are exposed for all to see.

Now let’s look at why undecideds should say yes, yes, yes to Labor.

Space dictates that just a handful of reasons be used to illustrate why.

Economic management
What has been written above suffices to support the quality of Labor’s economic management. Its brilliant carriage of the Australian economy through the GFC and to this day, its moderation of the cost of living, its achievement of low inflation and interest rates, its control of wage rises, its contribution to productivity, and its strong support for small and medium business stamp Labor as a sound economic manager, one that could be safely entrusted to manage it well in the decade ahead.

In contrast, the Coalition’s record of achievement pales into insignificance, is built on a belief in free markets and light regulation, and on cost cutting and austerity, but is redolent with deceit, another piece of which we saw publicized this week: the Liberal’s ‘Cost of Labor Calculator’. Greg Jericho delightfully debunks this downloadable app in an article in The Guardian. He concludes: “Dodgy cost calculators make for a great toy when you are trying to win an election, but as long as political parties treat voters like idiots and refuse to give them the full picture on such issues, we will forever be denied the chance of a proper debate. And while complaining about cost of living sounds like a great idea when you are in opposition, shifty claims about reducing the cost of living inevitably come back to bite you when in government.” Is it any wonder there is an insistent clamour for the Coalition to release its costings immediately?

Labor has the runs on the board for economic management. The Coalition, with its history of profligate spending, the unnecessary extension of middle class welfare, and its intention to slash and burn, doesn’t.

National Broadband Network
The clearly superior NBN offered by Labor trumps the inefficient, costly and inadequate NBN-Lite of the Coalition.

Labor’s NBN holds great promise for commerce, industry, science, agribusiness, service industries, education, health, and aged and disability care, as well as having enormous potential in the field of telecommunications. Its contribution to competitiveness will be massive. It will enable work from home and thereby reduce commuter traffic and pollution. Australia deserves the best to compete in a global economy. And in the fullness of time, the NBN will turn a profit, and repay the investment in it.

Labor’s NBN is what this nation needs.

The ground breaking reforms inherent in Labor’s Better Schools Plan (Gonski) will revolutionize school funding, cater for the disadvantaged, and enhance fairness in schooling. Added to a national curriculum, the MySchool website, NAPLAN, enhanced teacher education, more teachers, and incentives for better teachers, the foundations of a strong and equitable system of schooling are already in place. Labor will retain and improve it. Despite being on 'a unity ticket' with Labor, the Coalition does not show the same determination. It does not believe the funding system is broken, has committed to fund only the first four years, not the expensive years five and six, and wants to encourage public schools to become independent.

Labor has increased university funding, has created 190,000 new higher education places and 50,000 apprenticeships and training places, and will spend $14.3 billion in skills and training over the next four years.

Education has been a signature policy area for Labor. It has done more in its two terms than the previous government ever did.

From the outset, Labor has focussed on improving the health care system. It has moved to better integrate the contributions of State and Federal governments, often against resistance. Its efforts have been directed to enhancing community-based primary care and prevention through Medicare Locals and GP Superclinics, cancer care through many new centres, aged and dementia care, disability care through the groundbreaking NDIS, mental health care, and dental care. The NBN is seen as a crucial tool in home monitoring to keep the aged and disabled at home, to enable remote consultations, and to extend medical technology by bringing city expertise to regional and remote areas.

Health is another signature policy area of Labor. The originator of Medicare and the NDIS, it has always been superior to the Coalition, and will do even more in the future.

Industrial Relations
This is yet another signature policy area for Labor. It was responsible for the changes to WorkChoices that removed its punitive aspects. It has always been a champion of workers. It remains the defender of fairness in the workplace that would be threatened by an Abbott government, one hell bent on complying with business demands for ‘more flexibility’ and a ‘move of the IR pendulum to the sensible centre’.

Labor was the first to introduce an affordable paid parental leave scheme, now threatened by Abbott’s unaffordable and inequitable PPL, being marketed as a workplace entitlement like annual leave.

IR is Labor’s long suit; it is the Coalition’s bête noir.

Labor has embarked on the largest infrastructure project in Australia’s history – its NBN. Bigger even than the Snowy Mountains Scheme, it promises to elevate Australia into the top echelon in the communications world, thereby ensuring international competitiveness as it facilitates manufacturing, agriculture, service industries, tourism, education and health care.

Labor has made record spending on transport infrastructure in its six-year term. It favours, and has costed the Melbourne-Brisbane fast rail project and intends to proceed. Tony Abbott wants to be the ‘infrastructure prime minister’, but is stuck on roads, and against urban rail. He would have a lot of catching up to do.

Labor has a fine track record of infrastructure development, and would continue in this vein. The Coalition would be in catch-up mode.

Labor has been supportive of the struggling car industry, recognizing that beyond the 50,000 direct car-building jobs, there are 200,000 jobs supporting the industry. The Coalition is indifferent, and disinclined to offer support, operating from a ‘survival of the fittest’ mindset.

Ship-building is set for a boost if Labor is re-elected with the building of more Navy frigates in Melbourne. The possibility of moving Navy assets from Garden Island to Queensland opens up new opportunities for manufacturing.

Labor is manufacturing’s best bet. It plans to open up new industries as older ones fade during the transition that is in train. The Coalition never mentions the needed transition.

This is a most vexed area. On the positive side, Labor proposes to increase the humanitarian intake eventually to 27,000. The Coalition intends to curtail it. Labor has taken many steps against people smugglers, including the recent arrests in Australia. The Coalition’s policies become more and more retaliatory by the day, this week scrapping free legal services for asylum seekers.

Labor’s track record is not good, but is less punitive than the Coalition’s.

Climate change and the environment
Labor has a price on carbon that will evolve to an emissions trading scheme with worldwide trading in mid-2014. The Coalition does not take global warming seriously. It has a discredited Direct Action Plan that analysts Reputex say will have a $35 billion cost blowout in achieving its emissions reduction target!

So much for the ridiculous 15,000 strong Green Army, cleaning up waterways and planting 20 million trees in countless hectares of semi-arable land!

Labor’s approach to global warming is based on science, is feasible, and is already reducing our emissions and power usage. It encourages the development of renewables. The Coalition’s approach is virtually the reverse and will be ineffectual. The choice between them is easy and logical.

Labor’s insistence on fairness, equity, and concern for the disadvantaged, permeates all its policies. It is the party that supports the less well off, the disadvantaged and the disabled, those that need a hand. It seeks to close the gap between the richest and the poorest. The Coalition is less concerned about those at the bottom of the pile, supports those at the top, and believes the ‘trickle down’ theory of economics works, which study after study shows is not the case. The contrast between the ideologies of the two parties is stark and telling.

Any undecided that seeks to live in a fair and equitable society has no choice other than Labor.

This piece is already long enough. I trust that having exploded the many myths that have been spread about Labor, myths that turn out to be strengths, and having shown how much Labor has done in the last six years, more than any prior government, most of it the excellent work of Julia Gillard, work that Kevin Rudd now seeks to carry on, undecideds will be convinced that Labor is the most obvious choice for the next three years, and that the Coalition offers far less.

The Economist agrees: “The choice between a man with a defective manifesto and one with a defective personality is not appealing – but Mr Rudd gets our vote, largely because of Labor’s decent record. With deficits approaching, his numbers look more likely to add up than Mr Abbott’s.”

Labor has had its upheavals and its leadership unrest, but on sheer performance, on its forward-looking strategy for this nation, despite what most of the media says to the contrary, it is a long way ahead of the Coalition.

Labor has the long term vision and the coherent plans for the period of transition ahead and for the decades ahead; the Coalition does not.

So undecideds, say yes, yes, yes to Labor.

Should you decide to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be emailed to: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Julie Bishop, Chris Bowen, David Bradbury, George Brandis, Tony Burke, Mark Butler, Bob Carr, Jason Clare, Mark Dreyfus, Craig Emerson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Julia Gillard, Joe Hockey, Greg Hunt, Ed Husic, Barnaby Joyce, Bob Katter, Andrew Leigh, Jenny Macklin, Richard Marles, Tanya Plibersek, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Tony Smith, Wayne Swan, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Wilkie, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.

Say no, no, no to Tony Abbott

Rupert Murdoch wants him. Gina Rinehart wants him. The miners want him. Big business wants him. Most of the media want him. But does the public want him? By September 8 we will know if the voters really did want him, whether they have been persuaded by the continual media promotion of Tony Abbott and his Coalition, and the incessant denigration of Kevin Rudd and Labor.

Abbott supporters insist that he is the one this country needs as its leader for the next three years.

But how many will reflect on what it will mean to this nation to have Tony Abbott, whom we now know so well, as its Prime Minister?

It takes little serious reflection to conclude that this nation does not deserve to have Abbott inflicted on it. Let me elaborate on why we ought to say no, no, no to Tony Abbott.

Contemplate an Abbott prime ministership, an Abbott government.

In my opinion, we can confidently expect Abbott to exhibit seemingly conflicting attributes: vengefulness and weakness.

The vengeful Abbott

Although this 55-year-old has been telling us recently that he 'has grown, developed and matured' since those long past days when he embraced quite different policies and exhibited very different attitudes and behaviour, how convinced are you? The old saying about the leopard’s spots applies.

Is this man, who in student days resented losing, any different now? Is this the man who kicked in a glass door when he narrowly lost in a University Senate election? Is this the man who punched the wall close to Barbara Ramjan when he lost an SRC election to her? It was an event he couldn’t at first ‘remember’, and then said ‘it never happened’, despite witnesses to the contrary. But we all know Abbott is a self-confessed liar. Is this the man who subsequently called Ramjan ‘chair-thing’ during her subsequent term rather than her preferred title ‘chair person’?  Is this the man who abused Nicola Roxon and insulted the dying Bernie Banton?

Is this the man who as recently as last week in the leaders’ debate asked about Rudd: “Does this guy ever shut up?” It was a small infraction, of course grasped eagerly by the media, but it portrayed brittleness, it signalled thinly disguised aggression lurking just under the surface, aggression that could erupt with little provocation, as it did during university days. Hardly a desirable attribute in a national leader who would need to liaise with world leaders! Greg Jericho says this: “This could be Abbott’s version of the Latham handshake, because it feeds into the perception that already exists that Abbott is a bit of a brute – someone who is liable to snap if pushed a bit too hard." Happy Antipodean was blunter: “But every now and then - like last night - Abbott slips up and lowers the tone of social discourse to a level with which he – a father of three daughters! – is happiest with the after-game fly-off-the-rails barbarism of the teenage schoolboy. He's a disgrace to Australia.” Abbott’s recent sexist remarks about some of his candidates for election fit with this image. Read YaThink’s satirical take on his remarks.

Is this the man who from the moment Julia Gillard won the support of a majority of Independents and formed Government in 2010, labeled her as an illegitimate prime minister and her Government illegitimate? Is this the man who used over sixty motions to suspend standing orders to delegitimize her, the man who demonized her daily with vile appellations: ‘liar’, ‘incompetent’, ‘worst prime minister leading the worst government in Australian political history’, who sneered at her at every opportunity despite her record legislative achievements?

Abbott’s approach to opposition has been consistently denigratory and viciously revengeful. Abbott cannot tolerate being a loser. Losing brings out the vengeful side of his nature, the nastiest aspects of his behaviour.

Look at his opposition to Labor bills. He has opposed measures that he has supported in the past (an ETS is one example), simply to enjoy the satisfaction opposition afforded. He is a disciple of Randolph Churchill, and slavishly follows his dictum: “Oppositions should oppose everything, suggest nothing, and turf the government out”.

We would expect him to enjoy wreaking vengeance by repealing the carbon tax, the mining tax, and other Labor bills. Smashing what Labor has done is his pugilistic intent; demolition gives him satisfaction.

If he were to win, the bigger the majority the more intense and personal his vengeance would be. Voters need to know that vengeance is in his DNA. It would override any tendency to munificence that might emerge after a substantial victory. Remember his instruction to Malcolm Turnbull: “demolish the NBN”, an instruction Turnbull found a way to partly ignore. Demolition is Abbott’s preference.

Let’s look at some pretty obvious changes we could expect if Abbott prevails. Preston Towers has a nice account at AUSVOTES2013.

Tax changes
If he were to get a majority in both houses, we should expect not only the two major taxes to go, but also the carbon tax to be replaced by the underfunded, derisory Direct Action Plan, a plan way outside the carbon market system. There would also be a reversal of means testing of the private health insurance rebate, despite the Coalition agreeing to it earlier this year. Abandoned would be the recently mooted changes in the Fringe Benefits Tax in salary packages that enable the claiming of car expenses even when not used for business. Abbott would continue the rorting by the recipients, at taxpayers’ expense.

Industrial Relations
We would expect a revisiting of industrial relations despite Abbott’s ‘dead, buried and cremated’ reassurance, repeated again in the latest debate between the leaders. The pressure that commerce and industry is placing on Abbott would prove irresistible. Independent Australia sets out Abbott’s IR agenda in detail. Already he is talking about ‘flexible workplace reform’, and ‘moving the pendulum closer to the sensible middle’, which is code for the reintroduction of elements of WorkChoices by whatever more benign name Abbott invents. He would reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission with all its anti-union provisions. He would introduce union-bashing legislation to penalize dishonest union officials. In the event of his not having control of the Senate, some pay-offs might have to be made to the lesser parties and independents to implement his IR changes, which might include, for example, compromises to pro-lifer DLP John Madigan over the abortion issue.

Attacks on school funding
Although Abbott encouraged the Premiers to reject the Gonski reforms of school funding, when it became apparent that the people really did want the School Improvement Program implemented, and as more and more Premiers came on board, Abbott realized that to oppose it was such a vote loser that he endorsed it, claiming that he and Kevin Rudd were then on ‘a unity ticket’. Of course he has endorsed funding for only the first four years, whereas it is years five and six that are the most expensive. After all the talk of the program being a ‘Conski’, after Christopher Pyne’s insistence that the school funding system was not broken, after Abbott himself saying that if there was any funding inequity, it was the private schools that were missing out, we would expect Gonski to be revisited, subjected to yet another inquiry, and then watered down to reduce federal government support for public schools, thereby perpetuating the existing inequity. Abbott is even talking about encouraging public schools to become independent. Of course this would partly let him off the funding hook and satisfy his free market, user-pays ideology.

At the level of the family he has already announced the repeal of the ‘school kids bonus’, a move that would have its greatest effect on the poor in our community. He says he would use the money to fund in part his lavish PPL, one that so disproportionately favours the well off.

Attacks on the health system
We would expect an attack on elements of the health care system with GP super clinics and Medicare Locals his targets. We would wait with trepidation to see how he manages the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and in particular drugs that are used to assist abortion. And his push against the NBN would be reflected in the health sector too, as some of the planned innovations, such as home monitoring, would be curtailed or rendered impossible.

On nurses and aged care workers, Abbott wants to support them by ‘reducing red tape’, and ‘paperwork’. Sounds great, doesn’t it. But where does the reducing begin? As Clarencegirl asks: “Would it be daily observation charts, case notes, individual treatment plans, outcomes of multidisciplinary case management conferences, filling in accident/incident registers, or more simple tasks like placing patients/residents on lists for podiatry treatment and filling in weekly menus for those who can no longer do such tasks for themselves? Or would it be paperwork proving staffing levels, that all staff were suitably qualified for the positions they hold and that emergency medical equipment is tested/serviced regularly?”

All of these moves would be characterized as necessary cost-saving exercises to repair ‘the desperately bad financial situation Labor bequeathed the Coalition’.

Global warming
Lurking beneath an exterior that now acknowledges the reality of global warming, and the possibility that human activity contributes to it, is a denier. Why else would Abbott propose a scheme such as his Direct Action Plan? Malcolm Turnbull sees it as a bogus scheme that could easily be ditched when it all becomes too difficult, too costly, too logistically impossible, and ineffectual in lowering pollution to boot, as most economists and environmentalists predict. Abbott would cite the budget situation as his excuse for not proceeding, but the real reason would be that he doesn’t believe global warming is worth bothering about. After all, ‘it was hotter in Jesus’ time’. He keeps insisting, as does the sycophantic Greg Hunt, that there is no move to carbon trading elsewhere, which there is, and that the US is adopting ‘direct action’, which it isn’t. Being into short-termism, Abbott would let the planet look after itself, while he goes about doing the easier things, and Hunt would go on spinning a story that does not coincide with his own beliefs. As Tristan Edis writes: “Last week the Climate Institute called Hunt’s bluff, releasing a study examining the economics of Hunt’s Direct Action fund. In spite of its generous assumptions in Hunt’s favour, the study concluded Direct Action was underfunded by at least $4 billion to achieve the minimum Coalition emission reduction target.”

One area in which Malcolm Turnbull excels is obfuscation. He is not only incapable of making complex telecommunications issues simple enough for the public to comprehend, he is even less capable when he is trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. When his heart is not in it, he stammers and stumbles and becomes incomprehensible. Again and again he has tried to represent his NBN-Lite as superior on the grounds that it would cost less and would roll out faster. But that advantage comes at the expense of quality. The Coalition scheme would give Australia a second rate NBN, which would leave business and agriculture less competitive internationally, and would make home health care, aged care and remote consultations much more difficult, if not impossible. But both Turnbull and Abbott insist that it would be ‘good enough’ for most users, and that the aging copper he would use for the last kilometre is capable of the speeds he is promising, which it isn’t. If it’s OK for Abbott’s daughters to download movies, and for him to send emails, I suppose that would have to do!

Talking about a Google+hangout in which Turnbull participated last week, Sortius is a Geek reports that Turnbull’s “…answers were dripped in the same arrogant dismissive tone that we’ve become accustomed to when Turnbull is interviewed or debated.” And “This was a deliberate attempt to derail any concerns over his plan being short sighted, and essentially a waste of money.”

The Coalition’s NBN-Lite costings are shrouded in mystery. Renai LeMay reported this week: “Delimiter requested a formal position from Turnbull’s spokesperson last week about whether the Shadow Communications Minister would submit the Coalition’s NBN policy to the Treasury, but has not yet received a direct answer on the issue.”

For an excellent appraisal of Labor’s NBN read Michael Taylor’s post on The Australian Independent Media Network, which concludes: “The future is an exciting place and the technological possibilities seem endless. But life and society will increasingly revolve around fast, ubiquitous, and always-on network connectivity. Labor’s NBN sets Australia up to be a part of this, and potentially to be a leading developer of the technologies that will shape the lives of the next generations.” Abbott cannot stomach Labor’s plan being the best.

After his initial instruction to Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’, Abbott would want to get as close as he could to that destructive approach with his NBN-Lite. And he certainly wouldn’t want to upset his idol, Rupert Murdoch. Be certain that he would move his NBN-Lite as close as he could to Murdoch’s requirements.

Asylum seeker policy
Little needs to said about this, except that Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison would drag the Coalition even deeper into the morass in which this issue wallows. They would seek to look more aggressive than the Government, would add more and more disincentives to their already punitive policy, as we have seen this week, and the dog whistling would heighten.

Just when it seemed they couldn’t possibly become more hairy-chested, they are now planning to spend millions ‘buying back the fishing boats’, presumably outbidding the people smugglers. As there are estimated to be three quarters of a million fishing boats in Indonesia, Morrison would be pretty busy, and would needs lots of money. If he were to buy them all, who would do the fishing? Crazy. Greg Jericho describes just how crazy.

Fiscal responsibility
Notwithstanding all the Coalition hype about Government debt and deficit, and how fiscal management would be so much better under the Coalition, the approach of Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann to fiscal responsibility gives voters no confidence that the Coalition could and would do what it says it will. They often misrepresent the facts, distort the evidence, and cherry pick the data to push their point of view, and so far we have seen little of their policy costings, which they will hide until the last week of the election, when thorough critique will be impossible. They plan simply to bluff their way through. At his campaign launch today, Abbott set out an extended timeframe for a $4 billion surplus: the end of his first term! And a budget surplus of one per cent of GDP a decade hence! He’s retreating fast.

Ross Gittins insists that the Coalition has an obligation to show how it will pay for its election promises. He goes on to outline “the unworthy reasons for avoiding any firm commitment on when an Abbott government would get the budget back to surplus. I can think of three. Because it's a safe bet the Coalition parties intend to put their debt-and-deficit rhetoric on the back burner as soon as they're back in power and the fear campaign has served its purpose. Because, even in government, Tony Abbott is likely to prove an incorrigible populist with little interest in or sympathy for the precepts of rational economics. As is clear from the way he keeps departing from the agreed line in this campaign, Hockey, Arthur Sinodinos and Malcolm Turnbull would have an unending struggle trying to keep the boss up to the mark." Gittins concludes: “…because an Abbott government would have handicapped itself so badly on the tax side of the budget that fiscal responsibility would require a degree of continuing restraint on the spending side of which no flesh-and-blood government is capable.”

If an example of this is needed, just think about the fiscal contortions that have beset the funding of Abbott’s ‘signature policy’, his Paid Parental Leave scheme, which economists and many in his party, now including Nick Minchin, believe is not capable of being responsibly implemented.

We could expect no fiscal magic from Abbott, Hockey, and Co, and certainly no move that would up the ante on the wealthy. In contrast, we can see already their preparedness to move against the underprivileged, the workers, and the indigent. They have said they would kill the School Kids Bonus and the low income tax offset, reduce the tax free ceiling thereby disadvantaging the poorest, reverse the changes to the means tested private health insurance rebate, which would advantage the wealthy, and defer for two years the moving of superannuation from nine to twelve percent. And so the attack on the less-well-off would continue. Expect more, as Abbott believes these are Labor voters anyway.

I could go on and on describing what to expect should Abbott become PM, what vengeance to anticipate, but what I have described will have to suffice.

What is more disconcerting though than Abbott’s vengefulness is his weakness, weakness that would render him unable to resist the requests, the demands of his wealthy and influential sponsors.

Abbott the weak man

The ones who would call the shots, who would shout the orders to which Abbott would jump, are Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart. Look at how obsequious Abbott is in the presence of these wealthy moguls.

Murdoch would want the threat to his Foxtel empire from the NBN neutralized. He would want no restrictions to his precious ‘freedom of the press’, which is code for him being able to say and print whatever he likes to support his commercial interests and his ideological preferences. Abbott would meekly comply; Murdoch would never see Abbott’s hairy chest. He would never see Abbott the boxer ready to flatten his adversary, or Abbott the student threatening his opponents.

Rinehart would want every concession she could wrench from Abbott, and would get it. He would make it easier for her to develop her mines, easier for her to avoid taxes that rightfully should support the common good. He would repeal the mining tax. He would support workers on 457 visas to build her mines. He would kiss her hand and give her what she demands, such as her plan for development of the North. The bravado Abbott shows against helpless asylum seekers would never be directed towards her; she is too prepossessing, too powerful, too determined to get her own way, too used to winning.

Of course, lesser lights such as Andrew Forrest would soon have his arm around Abbott seducing him to support Twiggy’s enterprises. Mitch Hooke of the Minerals Council of Australia would know that Abbott would jump if he clicks his fingers – he wouldn’t have to spend another $22 million on ads to get his way.

Peter Anderson of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry would have Abbott’s ear, urging him to reduce taxes, make the workplace more flexible, lessen red and green tape, minimize regulation, reduce company tax, and give business lots of incentives. Abbott would present an open door to the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group.

Abbott is a weak man who would not be able to resist the demands of powerful business and industry leaders. He would go wobbly at the knees and comply. He hasn’t got the ticker to stand firm.

Abbott has never acknowledged the reality of the global financial crisis and its ongoing sequelae; he has never acknowledged the ever-changing global economic circumstances and how Australia must adapt to them, even in his campaign launch today. It’s as if these situations never existed. Instead of giving voters a concrete ‘narrative’, the Holy Grail political journalists demanded of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, all he gave us today were his aspirations, some now stretched out over a decade. There were few concrete plans to achieve them, and no vision of what he wanted for this nation ten years from now. It’s so easy to mouth motherhood statements such his desire for ‘a stronger economy’, ‘more jobs’, ‘lower taxes’, ‘budget surpluses’, ‘better hospitals and schools’, and so on, but without concrete plans, they are just fine-sounding words, empty of substance. Why the paltry narrative? Is it because he awaits directives from the wealthy and the powerful? He creative slate looks blank, waiting as it seems to be for his mentors to write their narrative.

Perhaps even more sinisterly, Abbott would be subject to the pressure of his mentor, Cardinal George Pell. With his Catholic upbringing, with his Jesuit education so deeply entrenched in his psyche, he would weakly submit to the power of his Church, to the influence of his mentor. He would avoid policies that run counter to his Church’s dogma, as we are seeing manifest in his continuing unwillingness to allow a conscience vote in the Coalition on the matter of gay marriage. He would not be able to resist lobbying against abortion by his Church and the pro-lifers.

Should he become PM, this weakness of character would be even more detrimental to good governance, more dangerous to equity and fairness than the vengefulness that he would parade against the weak, against those who have no defence. The wealthy and powerful would prevail. Abbott, the weak man, would not resist.

Be afraid of an Abbott prime ministership, very afraid.

Say no, no, no to Tony Abbott.

Should you wish to ‘disseminate this post’, it will be sent to the following: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Julie Bishop, Chris Bowen, George Brandis, Mathias Cormann, Josh Frydenberg, Joe Hockey, Christine Milne, Scott Morrison, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten, Arthur Sinodinos, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull, Penny Wong and Nick Xenophon.

The Great Debate Debacle

Has anyone had a good word to say about the Great Debate last Sunday? What was it all about? What was the intent of the organizers?

Was it to provide entertainment for the viewers of the channels involved?
Was it to try out some new opinion-counting gadgetry?
Was it to stage a head-to-head contest to pick a winner?
Was it to see who was the best debater?
Was it to satisfy the debating elite by following their preferred format?
Was it to see who had the sharpest repartee, the best rejoinder?
Was it to see who exhibited the coolest demeanour, the highest confidence?
Was it to look for stumbles, inept utterances, embarrassing gaffes, headline makers?
Was it to make the involved journalists look erudite, sharp, and perceptive?
Was it to give fodder for the TV and radio news, and the next day’s papers?

I suspect it was all of the above.

Yet it turned out to be paltry entertainment and showed lamentable inconsistency between counting gadgets, with several picking Kevin Rudd a comfortable winner, while another recorded the striking reverse. It never assessed debating attributes and oral skills directly, and failed to satisfy the debating pundits. It only obliquely addressed demeanour and confidence and found a few stumbles, Rudd’s use of notes being the one most mentioned. It did show though how out of touch and inept the journalists were at organizing and conducting such an event. It certainly did provide fodder for lots of news and opinion writing, most of it inconsequential or uninformed. Overall though, the Great Debate was a debacle.

Was it to help voters decide who was the most suitable leader to be the next PM?
Was it to enlighten voters about the salient issues of the election?
Was it to tell voters about the vision the leaders have for the nation?
Was it to inform voters about how the leaders viewed the challenges ahead?
Was it to help voters decide who had the best policies to cope with them?
Was it to help voters decide who had the most accurate costings?
Was it to help voters feel confident that at least one of the leaders had what it takes to lead the nation effectively, efficiently, and wisely for the next triennium?

In my view, it was none of the above. I doubt if these aims entered into the minds of the organizers. If they did, if the organizers were hoping to elucidate these matters, the ‘debate’ was an abject failure.

Yet, we ought not to be surprised. If one were hoping to address these issues, why would the organizers and interrogators be drawn from a decaying and incompetent Fourth Estate that has shown itself to be remote from mainstream Australians, trapped in the Canberra echo-chamber where groupthink abounds and reverberations deafen, where a foreign mogul issues instructions from on high about what he wants and how his journalists shall get it for him?

If we have a repeat of the Great Debate, the concept of debates between leaders at election time will atrophy and die. The format was wrong, the organizers were unsuitable, the interrogators inappropriate, and it was not even enjoyable entertainment.

It’s easy to be critical. It’s not so easy to be innovative, to be constructive. What follows is an attempt to outline a foundation for a debate that has a chance of being more informative for voters. I recognize that there may be resistance from one or more of the political parties to any attempt to give voters sound evidence on which to base their voting decisions. I suspect that for both major parties the crucial tasks are as follows:

Avoid any error that diminishes the party’s prestige or the leader’s status.
Avoid saying anything that will be fodder for the gaffe-hungry Fourth Estate.
Avoid committing to anything that is contrary to party policy.
Avoid committing to anything that might come back to haunt the party.
Avoid promises or suggestions that might turn out to be inappropriate, unattainable, or politically unwise.
Avoid giving figures or costings unless they are unquestionably correct.
Never miss an opportunity to criticize the opponent.
Never miss an opportunity to make a hypercritical comment, or utter a well-tried slogan.
Put down and embarrass the opponent at every opportunity.
Impugn the opponent’s character, motives and intent.
Repeat criticisms no matter how well worn, no matter how out-of-date.
Use sarcasm liberally. Demean at every opportunity.
Use distortions of the truth ‘when it is safe to do so’.
Insist that no matter how poorly the debate has gone for you, you won.
Be ready to remind the media of any gaffes, misstatements, inaccuracies, or lies your opponent perpetrated during the debate.

Given this formidable list of negative tasks that both sides always have in mind, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that a rational and productive debate between leaders is simply not possible to arrange. Anyway let’s try.

What I want to know before voting can be summarized as follows:

What vision do the leaders have for this nation for the next three years, and the next decade?
Put another way, what sort of nation would they wish to see in three and ten years?
Given that Australia exists in a global economy where what is happening elsewhere impinges comprehensively on our economy, especially what is happening in China, India, Japan, United States, Europe, the developing economies in our region, and in South America, what are the economic challenges facing the nation now, and likely to be in the next decade?
How do the leaders plan to address these challenges, one by one?
Do the leaders seek to bring the Budget back into balance?
If so, when do they expect they might be able to do this?
How do they plan to do this?
What moves do they plan to improve revenue and reduce expenditure to achieve this?
How do they plan to correct the longstanding structural defects in the Budget that so adversely affect it now?
How do they plan to reduce debt, over what period, and in what circumstances?
What are the attributes for the economy for which each leader is striving?
In particular, what are the desirable levels of growth, unemployment, participation, productivity, debt to GDP ratio, terms of trade, rating agency ratings, consumer and business confidence, inflation, RBA cash rates, interest rates, investment, business activity (retail, manufacturing, mining, agricultural), housing starts, housing affordability, business starts and defaults, and infrastructure development?
What are their specific policies to develop and to grow the economy?
What are their specific policies to create jobs?
Specifically, what are their policies to support car manufacturing?
Specifically, what are their policies to support small business?
What policies do they have in other portfolio areas that are designed to support the economy?
What is their tax policy?
What changes to tax policy are they advocating? Is a change to the GST an option?
How might these be brought about?
What are their priorities for expenditure?
Specifically, what emphasis do they propose to give to major areas of expenditure: on health, aged care and disability; education; welfare and transfer payments; immigration; defence; diplomatic activity and overseas aid; and the public service?
Will all policies and their cost be made available well before Election Day?

The questions above are related to the economy. But how many of these have been addressed in the campaign and in the Great Debate?

As Ben Eltham pointed out: “All in all, we’re not hearing a lot of detail from our politicians about their economic policies. Instead, the ongoing fascination with the deficit as a proxy for economic management continues to distract from the bigger picture. In a tougher and more substantial media environment, this lack of detail would be called out, as Colebatch does today on Opposition costings. But on the whole, the media continues to obsess over trivia, like Kevin Rudd’s notes in Sunday night’s leaders’ debate, or Tony Abbott’s unfortunate turn of phrase about suppositories.”

Ross Gittins says: “The two leaders' aim in the debate was the same as their aim in this campaign: to make it to election day while giving as few commitments as possible about what they'll do in the next three years.” Later he opines: “In modern campaigning, tough issues aren't debated, they're closed off.”

We are likely to reach Election Day with very few answers to these economic questions. At least Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, and later Kevin Rudd, Chris Bowen and Penny Wong addressed, and clearly spelt out the economic challenges facing this nation in the decade ahead. Everyone ought to know them by now.

In contrast, Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb and Mathias Cormann have never done so. Indeed, to a man they have denied the dire global economic situation, as if it never existed, as if it did not exist now. Instead, they have tried to sheet home to the Government responsibility for the budgetary problems it faces as a result of falling revenue. It’s all the Government’s fault according to them, and has nothing to do with the slowdown in the economy of China and its diminishing need for resources, nothing to do with the fall in the world prices for commodities, nothing to do with the recession in Europe or the sluggish economy in the US, nothing to do with the high Australian dollar. It’s all Labor’s mismanagement that has caused the problem. And with a compliant, unquestioning Fourth Estate, there is almost no one to challenge the Coalition’s disingenuousness, deception and outright lies. They are spread far and wide by the Murdoch press, particularly through its tabloid headlines, with Fairfax, and even the ABC echoing them. The voices of the few sensible and balanced commentators, such a Ross Gittins, Peter Martin, Stephen Koukoulas, and Laura Tingle, are drowned out by the cacophony of adverse comment streaming daily from the anti-Labor media.

Labor has attempted via several formal addresses by Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Chris Bowen to spell out how it plans to counter the adverse global economic environment in which Australia is immersed, and manage the transition of our economy from a resource-based one to a more diversified one that focuses on manufacturing, service provision and agriculture. In contrast, all we have heard from the Coalition is a bunch of motherhood statements, a plethora of oft-repeated slogans, and precious little substance.

If you think that is unfair comment, take a look through the Coalition’s formal statements in its booklet: Our Plan Real Solutions for All Australians, the one that Abbott and his team clutch to their chest during pressers, always cover side out. It’s quite nicely laid out, and easy to follow. Download the PDF file and scroll through the content. At first there is some statements about Delivering a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia. Then scroll to page 28 and read the section headed: Building a Five pillar economy and unleashing Australia’s potential.

Some of you may nod in approval because there are few motherhood aspirations there that could reasonably be challenged, but look for the detail about HOW these aspirations are to be accomplished. Don’t expect too much. Most of it you will have heard before. It is fine sounding, but superficial. This is what Ben Eltham had to say in New Matilda: “The Coalition has a plan to build a “five-pillar economy”, but details on this pentagonal wonder are hard to find. How will the Coalition drive growth in one of those five pillars, education and research? Apparently, according to the Coalition’s “Our Plan” brochure, “by removing the shackles and burdens holding the industry back and by making the industry more productive and globally competitive.” Clearly, he is left underwhelmed by detail in the Coalition’s ‘Real Solutions’.

This is what a debate between leaders ought to be about – teasing out the aspirations for the economy and wrapping them in the detail of how the aspirations will be achieved. The leaders ought not to be able to get away with platitudinous targets; it is the how that transforms laudable goals into actual achievements. That’s what we need to know. A good moderator ought to be able to extract that information, if indeed the leader is in possession of it. Perhaps the Chris Bowen/Joe Hockey encounter on Q&A on Monday night will give us what we want and need. It will be a forum that we can contrast with the forum of last Sunday’s debate.

So far, I have dealt with but one of the many areas of government that need appraisal – the economy, clearly the most important of all to the electorate. There are many others though – too many to deal with here. Health, education, industrial relations, immigration, and global warming spring to mind. These too need to be addressed.

It is not just the content of the debates that need attention, it is the format.

The Sunday night format was awful. It was inappropriate on almost every count. First, I believe that if there is to be a journalist involved at all, moderator is the only role that might be appropriate. Journalists should not formulate the questions, or ask them. They should not presume to know the questions voters want answered.

For my part, I would prefer questions to be formulated by a panel familiar with the subject matter, and based on questions submitted by the voters. Well before the debate, the public should be invited to post questions on a website dedicated to the debate. These would then be aggregated into groups, and questions refined from them. This would not be difficult or time consuming.

The debate is not for the purpose of tripping up the leaders, or even testing their capacity to remember the details of their policies. It is not an exam. So why not send them the questions a few days in advance to give them the chance to prepare full, yet concise answers. We want to know what the policies really are, not how well the leaders remember them or even how well they articulate them in an off-the-cuff answer, certainly not how well they spin an answer off the top of their head.

A competent moderator should present the questions, which should also be displayed boldly on a screen behind the leaders, so they are visible to viewers throughout the answers. Each leader is given the same time to respond, and should be permitted to use visual aids such as graphs and graphics. The eye combined with the ear is better than the ear alone. The moderator should have the right to interrupt if the speaker is wandering off topic or avoiding the question, if he makes a contentious or contestable statement, if he reverts to motherhood statements or slogans, and if he spends too long criticising his opponent.

There should be opportunities for each leader to challenge the other’s assertions and ask for evidence.

Each debate should be confined to just one major topic, or a small group of related topics, such as, for example, health, aged care and disability. Too many topics in the one debate foster superficiality, as we saw during the first debate.

I do not believe community forums are suitable for such a debate between leaders. Those I have witnessed have been characterized by partisan questioning by audience ‘plants’, and stereotypical answers. Nor do I think the Q&A format, where the audience pose the questions, is suitable. While some Q&A sessions have been laudable (and entertaining), for a debate where in-depth probing of the leaders is crucial, this format is unlikely to achieve what voters need. And we certainly don’t want to be entertained. We want to be informed. The format for the Bowen/Hockey encounter on Q&A will be worthy of note. In particular, I will be looking to see how Tony Jones garners the questions, how he keeps the speakers on topic, the extent to which he interrupts, how appropriate those interruptions are, and how well the speakers inform the viewers about their policies and their costings.

In summary, I believe the best arrangement for these debates would be to divide the major issues into four or five main topics, invite the public to post online the questions they want addressed, have a panel of professionals in the subject refine the questions, send them to the speakers beforehand, have an accomplished moderator pose them and then monitor the leaders’ contributions, allowing interaction between them. There ought to be an hour-long debate on each major topic, or group of topics. I would favour having ministers and shadow ministers involved as well as the leaders. That would somewhat tone down the presidential tenor that now overwhelms this election campaign.

We need more debates, better information, more transparency, deeper insight, more honesty.

There it is folks. It may be pie in the sky.

What do you think?

If you decide to ‘Disseminate this post’, it will be sent to the following: Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Anthony Albanese, Julie Bishop, Chris Bowen, George Brandis, Mathias Cormann, Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison, Christopher Pyne, Andrew Robb, Kevin Rudd, Tony Smith, Warren Truss, Malcolm Turnbull and Penny Wong